LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville's first syringe exchange site opened its doors in June 2015 as a tool to battle the city’s heroin epidemic. 

The program has expanded to four sites across the city, with some sites open six days a week. In only a year and a half, 5,696 people have used the program. About half of them are returning clients. 

"On average we're seeing 350 to 400 new people every month,” said Matt LaRocco, a certified drug and alcohol counselor, who runs Louisville’s Syringe Exchange Program. 

The most current data, from when the first site opened until Nov. 30, 2016, says 769,836 clean needles have been given out so far. In the same time frame, around 455,511 dirty needles have been turned in. These numbers don’t reflect December 2016 or any needles given or collected so far in 2017.

"I think we have a good rate of returns for syringes,” LaRocco said. “I think among the return participants we're seeing about 75 percent of the syringes that we give out come back in which is really pretty good." 

The goal of the syringe exchange is to prevent the spread of disease among addicts. It also has economic benefits.

"Because it saves millions of dollars every year through not having newly diagnosed cases of HIV and the spread of Hepatitis C and having to treat those cases through the Medicaid system,” LaRocco said.

Hundreds of people have received HIV & Hepatitis C testing through the program. The Department of Public Health and Wellness says there has not been a drastic increase in cases either, which is a possible indication the exchanges are having a real impact. 

The exchange program also encourages users to get help. Over 300 people have received a drug treatment referral.

"But bigger than that, and I think the numbers don't reflect this, is the conversations that people are beginning to have about recovery,” LaRocco said. “So even if they're not getting a referral for treatment, they are beginning to talk about their drug use in ways that maybe they hadn't before." 

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