Monday, March 19, 2018

Fiscal court in county with serious drug problem narrowly approves syringe exchange, then backs out

Clinton County (Wikipedia map)
Clinton County, which has a serious drug-abuse problem, took a big step toward becoming the fifth county in the 10-county Lake Cumberland Health District to approve a syringe exchange. Then it backed off.

The county Fiscal Court voted 4-3 in favor of the exchange March 15, with Judge-Executive Richard Armstrong casting the tie-breaking vote. "Armstrong noted that he was at first skeptical about the program himself, but the more he has learned about it, the more he was in favor of it," the Clinton County News reports. "He noted that if the program saved just one life it would be worth it. 'At least it’s an improvement,' he said."

Ricky Craig, one of the three magistrates who voted no, and one of Armstrong's five opponents in the May primary election, disagreed. “It’s like promoting drug use,” he said. He also noted that diabetics "are not eligible for free syringes in most cases," the News reports. "Craig also noted that the addict chooses to use the drug, while people who have illnesses like diabetes do not choose it."

Dr. William Powell of the county Board of Health "said the point of the exchange program was not to promote drug use but rather prevent disease," the News reports. Tracy Aaron of the Lake Cumberland District Health Department said drug users will exchange needles whether they are clean or dirty, and dirty needles are a health hazard.

The hazard is not just to users. Health board member Christy Guffey "noted that there had been syringes found at the park and other places, that are a danger to children and others, such as people who clean up roadways."

The health board has approved the exchange; the last hurdle was to be the Albany City Council, which next meets April 3. But on March 23, the fiscal court held a special meeting at which all the magistrates voted against the exchange and Armstrong did not vote, according to Alan Gibson, editor and publisher of the News.

Clinton County has one of the highest annual rates of drug-overdose deaths (9.62 per 10,000 people aged 15 to 64) in Kentucky, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ranked it 11th among U.S. counties most vulnerable to outbreaks of HIV or hepatitis C as a result of intravenous drug use.

Adjoining Russell County, with an overdose-death rate of 7.3, has adopted a syringe exchange. Others in the Lake Cumberland district that have done so are Adair, McCreary and Pulaski.

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