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Needle Exchange/Syringe Access Program Presented to Ft. Wright

Dr. Lynne Saddler of the Northern Kentucky Health Department presented on the variables of the region’s proposed Syringe Access/Needle Exchange Program and fielded questions from Fort Wright City Council members Wednesday evening on the much-debated issue.

According to the Health Department, its Syringe Access Exchange Program, “Reduces the spread of communicable diseases like hepatitis C and B and HIV in people who inject drugs. Sterile needles and syringes are exchanged for the contaminated variety and they are properly disposed of.”

So, what are the benefits of the program? Participants in the program are “25 percent more likely to eventually enroll in a drug treatment program.” Why is getting help so important? From 2009-2014, Northern Kentucky has seen its cases of hepatitis C spike 120%, its current track 19 times the national average, the Department says.

Saddler told Council that it wanted to avoid the possible HIV “tsunami” outbreak that could hit the Tri-State in the coming years if the area stays on its current path, citing Scott County, IN, which is facing more than 170 HIV-positive drug users in the rural area not far from Louisville. “If HIV infection were to occur at a similar rate in Northern Kentucky, our region would be faced with more than 2,000 cases and cost of care of more than two billion,” according to the Health Department.

How is the virus tracked within the area, Mayor Dave Hatter asked Saddler? “Even if they were to report to us, what we do is work with the state to verify if the person is already in the system and already known to us as being a positive HIV case. If they’re not and it’s a brand new report, then we go and talk to the person and try to assess how they got HIV and what their risk factors are; what they may have been exposed to and work to try and contact those folks to get them connected to treatment, as well.” It should be noted that the Kentucky Department of Public Health identified the 41011 area code as a “priority target population due to its number of residents living with the disease” within the general area code.

But despite the exchange program’s noted pluses of “not encouraging or increasing drug use,” of “crime not rising in neighborhoods in which clinics operate,” and the program “reducing the spread of disease,” councilman Bernie Wessels told Saddler that these facts presented may not hold true for every addict, because he’d spoken to a few that disputed some of the program’s assets.

Like many others in the region and a few surrounding him on council, Hatter remarked that he initially was against the exchange program but has come around to being on the fence after listening in on several presentations by the Health Department. Fort Wright – like many others – is in a wait-and-see mode.

Other Notes:

Council discussed the possibility of adding a 13th police officer to the force, something they agreed would be a welcome addition. While the topic will be brought forth at the next meeting on March 2, council would like to see the downward numerical trend reversed within the department and add the 13th member for the first time in over eight years. Its 12th member is currently in the training process and will not be officially added to the force upstate until later this year.

Written by Jason Finnell, RCN contributor
Photo: Lynne Saddler (RCN)