Three more Kentucky counties get needle exchanges; several others discussing, some debating; most are in early stages

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Harrison, Pike and Knox counties are the latest in Kentucky to approve a needle-exchange program, bringing the total number of counties to 14, and several more are getting close.

Needle exchanges were authorized by the 2015 anti-heroin bill in an effort to decrease the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, which are commonly spread by the sharing of needles among intravenous drug users. They require both local approval and funding.

The other counties that have either approved or are operating needle exchanges are Jefferson, Fayette, Pendleton, Carter, Grant, Jessamine, Franklin, Clark, Boyd, Kenton and Elliott.

Campbell County close, could have domino effect

The Campbell County Fiscal Court voted 3-1 May 4 to approve a needle exchange and now awaits the support of the City of Newport, Mark Collier of Fort Thomas Matters reports for WCPO-TV, its news partner.

If approved, the exchange will be be operated by the Northern Kentucky Health Department and paid for by a grant from the R.C. Durr Foundation. It also has a a sunset provision that would make it expire Dec. 31, 2018.

Commissioner Charlie Coleman, the only dissenter, said he opposed the exchange because Campbell County residents told him “overwhelmingly” that they didn’t want one, Collier reports. He was also not comfortable with the proposed location in the Fiscal Court building.

While Kenton County has approved a mobile needle exchange and the City of Covington has also approved one, both programs are contingent on Boone or Campbell counties to join the effort.

The Fort Mitchell City Council passed a resolution April 18 supporting a needle exchange, making it the second Kenton County city to do so. Independence passed a similar resolution earlier this year, Melissa Stewart reports for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Some counties in very early stages

The Whitley County Board of Health has unanimously voted in support of a needle exchange program, Mark White reports for the Corbin-Whitley News Journal. The county health department and the Whitley County UNITE Coalition, which works toward reversing the country’s opioid epidemic, have held a public meeting to discuss the topic.

Mercer County will hold a community forum May 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the county Extension office to discuss a needle exchange, Kendra Peek reports for The Advocate-Messenger in Danville. Their program has been prompted by reports of two people stuck by discarded needles in public places in the county. County Judge Executive Milward Dedman told Peek he was “leaning in favor of it.”

Nelson County is also considering a needle exchange, Randy Patrick reports for The Kentucky Standard in Bardstown. The public-health director for the Lincoln Trail District Health Department, Sara Jo Best, gave a presentation in support of the program April 19 at the Nelson County Fiscal Court meeting.

The Laurel County Board of Health is considering a needle exchange and will further discuss it at its June 9 meeting, Kelly McKinney reports for The Sentinel-Echo.

Ben Carlson of The Anderson News recently told what now reads like a familiar story about the exchange that occurs in an early needle exchange educational meetings. The Anderson County Health Department held such a meeting April 25.

At the meeting, health officials shared research showing that needle exchanges decrease the rates of HIV and hepatitis C caused by shared needle use; do not increase drug use; help connect users with counseling and treatment; and get dirty needles off the street.

It also included complaints from opponents who say that needle exchanges are “tacit approval of IV drug abuse.” The foes included peace officers.

“The sheriff and I have over six decades of law-enforcement experience combined, and we’ve used those to teach children about the dangers of drugs,” said Chief Deputy Sheriff Joe Milam. “We’re not going to say don’t use drugs, but if you do, use this. We are not in favor of this.”

Exchanges get use, award

Lexington’s needle exchange program is adding on-site referrals to rehabilitation programs to its needle exchange, which has been operating since September, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. Since its opening, the program has received 10,297 used needles and given out 10,803 clean ones.

The Little Sandy District Health Department, which runs needle exchanges in Olive Hill and Grayson, recently received the Kentucky Public Health Association Commissioner’s Award for its needle exchange. Since Feb. 4, more than 500 dirty needles have been exchanged in both Carter County locations, Joe Lewis reports for the local weekly, the Journal-Times.

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