This problem isn’t explosive like drunk driving, and it doesn’t catch the eye like gang violence. One of Hamilton County’s most pressing issues goes under the proverbial radar compared to their more flashy counterparts. Shannon Stephenson of Cempa Community Care told members of the Civitan Club on Friday.
HIV and sexually transmitted illnesses (STI’s) are a huge issue in the United States and Hamilton County. According to Ms.
Stephenson, the last five years has seen a 42 percent increase in the cases of gonorrhea, and an astonishing 164 percent increase in syphilis cases in Hamilton County.
HIV is another threat in Hamilton County, and this threat is only predicted to be worse. While the South only houses 38 percent of United States residents, it accounts for 50 percent of all new HIV diagnoses.
“We are the next outbreak area of HIV,” said Ms. Stephenson, “Two years ago, they passed legislation that said we could do a syringe trade program. It is a one for one program, so in order to get a new needle, they have to bring us our old one.”
The positive news is that there are ways to fight this epidemic. Cempa Community Care has nearly 1,000 clients in 23 different counties across East Tennessee. This non-profit organization provides free care for those who are uninsured and can’t afford it.
According to Ms. Stephenson, of all of the HIV positive patients they treat, Cempa’s program renders 92 percent of them unable to transmit the virus. She also spoke of their desire to dispel some of the myths surrounding HIV.
“HIV does not live outside of the needle for very long. No, you can’t get it from spitting on someone. There’s a lot of myths out there that we’re trying to dispel,” the speaker said. “We’re at the point where we can eradicate HIV in the country, so we want to get rid of it.”
Ms. Stephenson also mentioned the notorious opioid epidemic, a scourge which is only getting worse year after year. According to the speaker, 130 people a day die of an opioid overdose, a larger number than those who perish in car accidents.
Cempa provides many options for those trying to beat drug addictions, including providing Naloxone kits. These kits immediately bring those overdosing down from a high, and make it impossible for someone to “get high.” These are not addictive, and can be used every day as a preventative medicine during detox.
However, Ms. Stephenson let the Civitan Club know if a club member had someone who wanted to get help, Cempa was not the place to go (at least initially).
“If they want help immediately, I would call the Hamilton County Commission,” she said, “I would put them directly into treatment.”