Bevin: Needle exchanges help prevent drug abuse

Posted at 2:45 PM, May 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-26 18:26:03-04

UPDATE: After this story was published, Gov. Bevin's office sent this longer statement, which a spokesperson said clarifies that he favors "one-for-one" exchanges. Those require that a used needle must be traded for a clean needle. Here's the statement:

"Many believe that needle exchanges can help prevent drug abuse and reduce the spread of disease. Both of these issues desperately need to be addressed in Kentucky. While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of exchanges, Governor Bevin believes, that if there is to be a needle exchange program in place, a true one-for-one needle exchange will get us closer to the goal of reducing the number of needles on the street."

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin supports needle exchanges, a controversial issue that cities and counties across the state, including those in Northern Kentucky, are debating.

Bevin’s support came in a statement to, after he was asked about our story that showed Kentucky to be at high risk of an outbreak of the AIDS virus due to the sharing of needles to inject drugs.

Read more: Kentucky is at high risk for HIV

Here’s the statement from Bevin’s office:

“Governor Bevin believes one-for-one needle exchange will get us closer to the goal of reducing the number of needles on the street. The exchange helps prevent drug abuse and reduce the spread of disease, something that is needed in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

It’s the strongest words yet on the issue from Bevin, a conservative Republican who took office in January. They come as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prepares to publish a county-by-county analysis of the risk of HIV and hepatitis outbreaks from injection drug use.

The unpublished analysis, which has been reported by WCPO, will show Kentucky with 54 counties at risk of such outbreaks. The analysis also ranks the counties by their level of risk. Kentucky has eight of the nation’s top 10 at-risk counties, and 13 of the top 20.

Among Northern Kentucky counties, Campbell, Grant and Gallatin are all on the CDC’s at-risk list.

This is the CDC map of at risk counties in Kentucky.

Needle exchanges are seen by many health professionals as an effective way to prevent disease being spread by the sharing of needles, a not-uncommon practice among drug addicts. The programs are also a way to encourage addicts to seek treatment.

But they remain controversial. Boone County commissioners last week refused to take the first steps toward setting up an exchange. After listening for more than three hours of data and words of support from local health professionals, first responders and others, the commissioners did nothing.

Starting a needle exchange program in Kentucky is a complicated and slow-moving process. Kenton County officials have approved a plan, but actually launching it was contingent on another Northern Kentucky county's participation. Campbell County officials approved a needle exchange program, but made their approval contingent on the City of Newport signing on.

Grant and Pendleton counties have already set up needle exchange programs.