Health

New federal funding is headed to Louisville to help fight substance abuse and diseases associated with needle sharing and unsafe sex.

A $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will go toward a collaborative community-based project called “Enhancing Community Connections.” It’s being led by the Council on Prevention and Education: Substances, Inc., or COPES.

The goal of the program is to reduce the risk of drug use and HIV infection among 13- to 24-year-old African-Americans in Louisville. Officials say the grant will help increase local capacity to plan, coordinate and provide evidence-based substance abuse, HIV and viral hepatitis outreach and prevention services. In addition, the program seeks to help teens and young adults make healthy decisions regarding substance abuse and sexual behavior.

COPES has partnered with more than a dozen local organizations to carry out the project, including Seven Counties and the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office. Ted Strader, the group’s executive director, said it’s important to create a caring community that will draw people to services that will help them.

“When you develop partnerships across service agencies and you train each other to be sensitive to the population, and you train partner agencies to listen to the client and serve the client rather than judge or attack or threaten them, everyone does better,” he said on Wednesday morning.

Wayne Crabtree, who oversees Metro’s needle exchange program, said African-Americans in Kentucky account for 38 percent of new HIV cases annually — although they only make up 8 percent of Kentucky’s population.

“[The project] will help us prevent HIV and drug abuse among our young people living in some of the most vulnerable neighborhoods,” Crabtree said.

Crabtree also said if an HIV outbreak were to happen in Louisville, as it did in Scott County, Ind., late last year, it would result in more than 31,600 new HIV cases and 27,000 new Hepatitis C cases.

Anthony Smith, director of Metro’s Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, said young people of color in Louisville are severely affected by violence, substance abuse and HIV. He said the partnership would help Metro officials expand prevention work in some of the city’s most-challenging neighborhoods.

“When you can work with those kids and their families early and often, you will have a better outcome for them,” Smith said. “So I think it’s a big part of what we’re doing, and it helps us build relationships, and it gives a little bit more outreach in a capacity that we really don’t have right now.”