The Newport Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Monday to authorize a syringe access exchange program. The vote authorizes the Northern Kentucky Health Department to administer a mobile unit syringe exchange located at the St. Elizabeth Physicians facility on Grand Avenue near Interstate 471 in south Newport.
"Newport has always been a leader and forward-thinking," said Newport City Commissioner Frank Peluso. "This is another step the right direction. We hope other communities join us in the fight."
According to the Northern Kentucky Health Department, syringe access exchange programs are a tool to reduce the threat on infectious disease spread through infected equipment, as well as a way for people who inject drugs to have more access to treatment and other health services and resources. In addition to an alarming increase in heroin usage, the rates of HIV and hepatitis C are also on the rise in the region.
Newport City Commissioner Tom Guidugli Jr. said he refers to the program as a "harm reduction and syringe access program".
"We are providing a path for other cities to join us in the future," Commissioner Guidugli Jr. said. Newport City Manager Tom Fromme said the city did extensive research on the issue, including input from surveys of Newport residents as well as community and neighborhood groups. He said that it was information and education opportunities provided by the city and organizations such as St. Elizabeth Heathcare and the Northern Kentucky Health Department that resulted in 80 percent of city resident supporting the program.
"We have come full circle as a community," Fromme said. " People know it's a problem we have to address. More and more people are having their lives affected by this, and it's a natural progression for them to see this program as essential."
Fromme lauded the Board of Commissioners for studying the program, gathering community input, holding and attending forums and taking the time it needed to make the right decision.
"This is an emotional and complex issue," he said. "Our Board did an outstanding job of educating themselves on this subject."
Newport Mayor Jerry Peluso complimented the residents of Newport for their involvement in helping the Board make the decision to authorize the program.
"I want to thank everyone for their patience while we've studied this issue closely," Mayor Peluso said.
The launch date of the program will be decided by St. Elizabeth and the Northern Kentucky Health Department.