Thursday, February 18, 2016

Grant is eighth county to approve needle exchange; op-ed calls for N. Ky. to take a vote; and Louisville opens its third site

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Grant County is the eighth county in the state to approve a needle-exchange program, nearly 11 months after the legislature paved the way to do so, while much of Northern Kentucky is still talking about it. Meanwhile, Louisville has opened its third site amid controversy.

The Grant County Fiscal Court agreed to the needle exchange Feb. 15, almost six months after the Williamstown City Council had unanimously approved the exchange Aug. 18, Terry DeMio reports for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"I am grateful to the elected officials who took the time to educate themselves and their constituents on the necessity of not only helping to stop the transmission of disease but also to provide assistance to a vulnerable population," Jim Thaxton, coordinator for the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Task Force, said at the meeting.

The Northern Kentucky Health Department will operate the program,which will be located in the department's Williamstown Health Center. The opening date has yet to be decided.

Needle exchanges were approved under the state's anti-heroin law passed in 2015, and require both local approval and funding. They are meant to slow the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, diseases that are commonly spread by intravenous drug use and to provide testing and treatment for those who are ready to seek it.

Kentucky leads the nation in hepatitis C, which is especially prevalent in Northern Kentucky with a rate that is 19.5 times higher than the rest of the nation, DeMio reports.

The other needle exchanges in the state that are either operating or have been approved are in Louisville and Lexington and the counties of Pendleton, Carter, Elliott, Franklin and Jessamine.

Northern Kentucky

Meanwhile, several Northern Kentucky counties continue to debate the issue with no action, prompting Mark Hansel, the NKyTribune's managing editor, to write a detailed op-ed that says it is time for Northern Kentucky to make a decision on a regional needle exchange program.

"It’s becoming pretty clear that if there is to be needle exchange in Northern Kentucky, it is going to have to be region-wide," he writes.

He says that the local-decision part of the law has allowed local elected officials in the region to "dodge the issue by not bringing it up for a vote" and that it's time for them to take a vote on this issue so voters know where they stand, noting that "elected officials in several Northern Kentucky municipalities are up for reelection in November."

Hansel explains, "At this point, it appears Covington, Kenton County, Newport and Campbell County are ready to support needle exchange," but "have indicated they will not move forward without assurances that Boone County and Florence will participate as well." He notes that Florence also has "increasing support," but requires Boone County's Fiscal Court to make a decision first. He says that it is unclear if Boone County has enough votes for it to pass, "but most observers believe it does not."

Hansel suggest these counties "could move the needle forward" by approving their needle exchanges "contingent on implementations by all cities and counties eligible to participate."


Meanwhile, Louisville is opening its third site for a needle exchange, and reaction to the new site has been mixed, Danielle Lama reports for WDRB-TV.

Rev. Owen Sheroan, who is with nearby Churchman Chapel Ministries, told Lama he was concerned that it would create more drug activity in the area, while other neighbors said they weren't concerned with it being there.

"About 20 percent of our participants right now that are driving all the way up here to our main site are coming from that ZIP code and surrounding areas," Public Health and Wellness Interim Director Dr. Sarah Moyer told Lama.

Allison Martin, spokeswoman for Jefferson County Public Schools, told WDRB that the district has expressed concerns to the city that the site is so close to Hazelwood Elementary School.

Lama reports, "When asked about the school's proximity, Moyer said the needle exchange will help get dirty needles off the street and that could in turn make the neighborhood safer. She also says the department hasn't had any problems at their other sites."

The exchange will be in an empty lot along Bicknell Avenue and will be open on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Health officials told Lama that so far, more than 2,000 people have used the city's needle-exchange program.

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