Newport Receptive to Needle Program in City
Newport's mayor and commissioners listened to a presentation from Dr. Lynne Saddler, Northern Kentucky Health District Director of Health, as she outlined a program to institute a needle exchange program in the four counties that are covered by the Northern Kentucky Health Department, Boone, Kenton, Campbell, and Grant.
"I believe in freewill," said Mayor Jerry Peluso after the presentation. "When a decision is made that will affect innocent people. But to do nothing is not the answer. As the mayor of a community we are affected by this disease. We should move forward to an interlocal agreement, with the agreement of Florence and Covington."
Mayor Peluso had asked Dr. Saddler approximately how many people in Northern Kentucky are on heroin, and how many times does a person try heroin before they are hooked. Dr Saddler said it depends on the person---one time will do it for some people and for others it takes more. She did not have statistics on how many people in Northern Kentucky are on heroin. A few minutes later Mayor Peluso said he asked the Clerk of Courts how many cases are drug related, and that he was told that 98 and 99 percent of the people going through the court system are affected by drugs.
Commissioner Thomas Giudugli asked why the needle exchanges would only be in the health department buildings, and was told that it was the most efficient and cost effective way to start the program; that there were nurses on hand, the vaccines that are offered can be refrigerated, and they would not have to add staff. He also asked how they can reach more people, and was told that they could expand the program, but they have to start somewhere and evolve.
When asked how much the program would cost, Dr. Saddler said it was difficult to arrive at an exact cost, but the best estimate would be a first year's cost of $289,000, and they estimate 750 people would be served district-wide. After some start-up costs, the average cost per participant would possibly be $385, but that was dependent on how many services each participant used, as well as a lot of variants. Saddler said that there is some funding in place already.
Commissioner Frank Peluso asked if the participants had to take advantage of the services, and Dr. Saddler said they do not lose their rights when they walk through the door, and no one can require them to use any services. He also asked if the health department wanted to expand and use other satellites, would they have to come back to the city to ask permission again, and Dr. Saddler said it depended on how the resolution, or whatever permissive legislation was initially given, was worded. If it was narrowly worded they might have to come back as opposed to a more generally worded piece of legislation.
Commissioner Peluso then asked if they would take the information to the neighborhood groups, and was told that their program can only succeed with community support.
Jim Thaxton, Coordinator for the Heroin Impact Response Team, a task force for the Northern Kentucky area, lives in Pendleton County, where the program has been initiated, and he told the commission that of the eight people who have come in for new needles, three are now in treatment programs.
Giudugli asked if participants were able to exchange needles anonymously, and Dr. Saddler said they don't have to give a name until they agree to more extensive testing. She agreed that most people are skittish. She said when they come in they follow a different track than other clients, and they are directed to a room where they will answer questions that will only take about six minutes.
Commissioner John Hayden asked how frequently they can come in for new needles and if it was a one to one exchange.
"We encourage weekly visits," said Dr. Saddler. "We ask them how many times a day they inject and then we gave them the needles and a sharps container. We tell them to bring any used needles back. If we don't give them enough they will share and that is kind of wasting everyones time, not to mention not stopping disease, which is our goal."
Two residents asked questions. One lady said from a neighborhood perspective she was concerned that the participants would be told that they can bring other needles back. She wondered if they were instructed how to gather used needles or would they be at risk if they would collect them to bring back, and was told the participants were instructed how to gather them safely.
A public works employee was concerned about an increase of needles already on the streets. He asked Jennifer Hunter, Director of Clinical Services, what happens if a person didn't bring in used needles, would they get more. Hunter said they work on a three strikes and you're out program, where if an addict didn't bring in used needles, after the third time they were out of the program until they brought some in. She said people tended to be fairly compliant, that if they were in the program it is because they want to be.
After the meeting Commissioner Giudugli said he agreed completely with what the mayor said. He stated that temporary drug use can be a life sentence, and providing new needles to try and curtail Hepatitis B and C and HIV would take that away.
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Thaxton as being from Grant County and stated that a needle program was in operation there. He is from Pendleton County where a program is underway. There is no program yet in Grant Co. RCN regrets the error.
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor