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Covington Approves Needle Exchange Program - with Conditions

The City of Covington will allow a needle exchange and syringe access program to operate - with conditions, it was decided at Tuesday night's city commission meeting.

A new state law adopted in 2015 allows for access to clean needles as an effort to stave off the increase of disease associated with intravenous drug use, particularly in regions like Northern Kentucky which is in the grips of a heroin crisis. In order to allow such a program to move forward, it has to be approved by a municipality and that municipality's county.

The Kenton County Fiscal Court is expected to consider the legislation adopted unanimously by the Covington City Commission at its meeting next week.

Covington becomes the second community behind Williamstown and Grant County, to approve a program. It will be operated by the Northern Kentucky Health Department at St. Elizabeth Hospital on James Simpson Way.

City Manager Larry Klein explained the conditions set forth in the city's ordinance related to the needle exchange:

  • The program must be adopted in three of the four counties served by the NKY Health Department. Grant County has already approved it and Kenton County is likely to follow. Either Campbell or Boone would be next, with a city in either of those counties on board, too. 
  • Only residents of the 4 counties would be served at the Covington program
  • The program would be a true needle exchange, meaning that a clean needle is given to a user only if a dirty needle is turned in. It was noted at Tuesday's meeting that new exchange programs struggle at first, and often users are given new needles regardless of whether any needles are turned in. In Covington, the program will be 1-to-1 and users would get only one needle for each dirty needle turned in.
  • Participants in the program must be tested for diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV.
  • The program will operate on days and times approved by St. Elizabeth not to exceed three hours per week.
  • Any materials distributed by the Health Department must be approved by St. Elizabeth.
  • The Health Department will give annual program updates to the city commission on or around June 1 of each year

"I do believe this program will have a benefit for the taxpayer in the long term," Klein said. It had been argued in the months leading up to Tuesday's decision as Health Department and St. Elizabeth officials made the rounds across the region pushing for the program, that Hepatitis C and HIV treatments are far more expensive than implementing an exchange program. "This is a first step to addressing this issue in our community."

Covington city officials said on Tuesday that the hospital location was better suited than the original proposal which was to operate an exchange at the Health Department's offices at 20th Street & Madison Avenue. "Having it at a hospital near the expressway is a huge improvement," said Commissioner Chuck Eilerman. Mayor Sherry Carran and Commissioner Jordan Huizenga acknowledged that a 1-to-1 program is not ideal, but that the program could possibly grow and evolve down the road as necessary to meet the needs of the community.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo via Wiki Commons