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Independence Gives Support to Syringe Access in Northern Kentucky

With a packed house at the Independence City Council chambers on Monday night, council voted 5-1 to support a Syringe Access Exchange program to be administered in Northern Kentucky.

The needle exchange program, according to Dr. Lynne Saddler of the Northern Kentucky Health Department, would allow heroin and other drug addicts to join the program to exchange their dirty needles for clean needles, thus stopping the spread of communicable diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

In Northern Kentucky, hepatitis C cases have risen by 120 percent in the last five years, while hepatitis B cases have risen 65%, according to Saddler. In contrast, HIV cases have not risen in the last five years.

“We really have a window of opportunity here to change something,” Saddler said. “To make sure we don’t have a HIV outbreak in Northern Kentucky.”

Saddler’s frame of reference for the HIV prevention discussion was the HIV epidemic that has taken place in Scott County, Indiana. According to a press release that was released by the Indiana State Department of Health, 188 people have tested positive for HIV in the latest outbreak, which has gained nationwide attention.

Saddler said that should there be an HIV outbreak at the same rate as Scott County, there would be over 3,100 new cases of HIV in Northern Kentucky within a year.

The needle exchange program would allow for the proper disposal of dirty needles, instead of being found in public. A simple stick by a dirty needle can transmit a communicable disease, such as HIV, hepatitis C, hepatitis B, among others.

This poses a danger to not only the public, but for public officials who interact with drug addicts every day, such as police officers, EMTs, and public works officials, according to Mayor Chris Reinersman.

“I am afraid,” Reinersman said. “I am very afraid of where this epidemic is going. My biggest concern is for first responders who come in contact with this every day.”

As part of a study of the effect of needles on first responders, Saddler said that a survey in San Diego showed that 30 percent of police officers reported having been stuck by a dirty needle.

According to Reinersman, needles are found in parks and other public areas, putting the general public at risk for being stuck with a dirty needle.

Needles become dirty after use and sharing with other individuals who may have a communicable disease. The needle exchange program will look to eliminate the sharing of needles.

“We have to stop the sharing to stop the spreading of disease,” Saddler said.

While some council members were still on the fence after Saddler’s presentation, other council members took time to not only show support for the resolution, but praise Reinersman for his leadership.

“I’m very proud of Mayor Reinersman,” Councilman Lucas Deaton said. “He’s showing good leadership. He’s not only leading Independence, but he’s leading the fight against heroin.”

Independence Chief of Police Anthony Lucas stated his support for the resolution during the audience discussion.

“I support it for the safety,” Lucas said. “It’s a safety issue for our police officers, EMTs, firefighters, and public works.”

Lucas told a story from about two years ago when he was asked to pick up a bag of needles from a house in Independence. Thinking he was going to pick up a Ziploc-sized bag, a man came out of the house with a pillowcase full of dirty needles in need of proper disposal.

A majority of the audience members were in favor of the resolution to support the needle exchange program in northern Kentucky. Many of the supporters have been personally affected by the heroin epidemic.

However, there were a few who opposed the measure, questioning whether it would really stop the sharing of needles or the spreading of diseases.

Sean Fitzgerald, a resident who is running for state representative for the 64th district, opposed the measure, saying he doesn’t believe that that needle exchanges work and arguing that Seattle has proved that they don’t work.

Saddler responded to Fitzgerald, stating that Seattle has not seen an increase in communicable diseases since initiating a needle exchange program.

Despite the resolution, the Syringe Access Exchange Program will not be located in Independence. The program will be run out of the Northern Kentucky Health Department locations and possibly St. Elizabeth Hospital. Those communities would include Covington, Florence, Edgewood, Newport, and Ft. Thomas.

There is currently one open needle exchange program open in northern Kentucky, located in Pendleton County. The program was open for multiple months before someone first entered the program.

MORE FACTS ABOUT HEROIN IN NORTHERN KENTUCKY:

  • St. Elizabeth Emergency Departments have seen a consistent increase in Heroin Overdoses since 2011. The following shows the number of heroin overdoses in the St. E’s EDs from 2011 through 2015. 2011: 252 2012: 447 2013: 545 2014: 745 2015: 1,168.

  • In 2015, the top three months for ER visits for heroin overdoses at St. Elizabeth Hospital were March (122), May (132), and October (121). In 2011, the numbers for those months were 31, 24, and 24, respectively.

  • Over 51% of drug overdose deaths are heroin related, according to NKY Hates Heroin.

Written by Clayton Castle