UNL researchers study rural needle exchange programs - News, Weather and Sports for Lincoln, NE; KLKNTV.com

UNL researchers study rural needle exchange programs

Rural drug use is big problem in the United States and moving to the Midwest.

Experts said we are seeing the use on injection drugs in areas of the country we've never seen before.

The CDC says heroin–related overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010.

Some University of Nebraska–Lincoln  researchers are looking to get ahead of the problem by looking at rural Puerto Rico.

They studied longstanding issue there and benefits of needle exchange, which is something they believe isn’t happening in Nebraska.

"We don't necessarily think because it's in Puerto Rico that this is really a different case than what we'll find here,” UNL Sociologist Kirk Dombrowski said.

The team also chose that community because its large Hepatitis C outbreak.

It faces higher rates of the disease than some urban cities in the U.S.

Researchers aren't too sure how big the problem is in the rural areas here, but it's estimated at least 50 percent those drug users have Hep C.

They said these programs will help stop the spread of infectious diseases that comes from sharing dirty needles.

Topher Hansen of CenterPointe said this study makes great sense.

"We should feel fortunate that we know about this before it's completely out of control in Nebraska and be able to start jumping on it,” CenterPointe CEO Topher Hansen said.

Advocates said these programs also have other benefits for addicts.

They help provide education about safe use as well as can open doors for treatment.

"So, by reaching out to people to make sure that you do initial harm reduction is the first basic of getting them clean equipment we also reach them in a number of different ways," Dombrowski said.

There  is group of university students looking to start a needle exchange program.

Also, the research team is hoping to recreate the study here in the Midwest soon.

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