Covington commissioners approve needle exchange

COVINGTON, Ky. -- A needle exchange program is closer to opening in Covington after the city's Board of Commissioners unanimously approved it Tuesday night.

The exchange would operate three hours a week in the parking lot of the St. Elizabeth Healthcare campus, just south of 12th Street.

The Northern Kentucky Board of Health and Kenton County Fiscal Court still have to approve the program; the fiscal court is expected to take up the issue at its meeting March 29.

If those two agencies sign off on it, the Northern Kentucky Healthy Department or a department-approved group would operate the exchange, which allows people to turn in used hypodermic needles and syringes and receive clean ones. 

The ultimate goal is to reduce the spread of disease, including HIV and hepatitis B and C, among drug users. Exchanges also keep used needles from ending up in playgrounds and sidewalks, and workers introduce addicts to recovery resources while health professionals have a chance to talk with them.

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About 80 percent of people who tested positive for hepatitis C admitted to intravenous drug use, according to the Northern Kentucky Health Department. The Northern Kentucky region has a hepatitis C rate 2.7 times that of Kentucky and nearly 20 times the U.S. as a whole.

Health officials also point to Scott County, Indiana, which had an HIV outbreak from people sharing used syringes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found the Tri-State is on the brink of an outbreak of HIV due to needle sharing.

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Independence, a quiet suburb in central Kenton County, and Williamstown, in Grant County, have also voted in support of a needle exchange program. A needle exchange in Pendleton County opened late last year, though it had no clients for several months; officials speculated that addicts feared police action.

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