Fiscal court, on split vote, approves needle exchange on trial basis

Posted March 21, 2018 at 9:15 am

Clinton County became one of the latest counties approached by the Lake Cumberland District Board of Health requesting it consider implementing a “needle exchange” program for drug users, that some officials say save lives of addicts and others.

Clinton Fiscal Court members, members of the local and district health departments, and others, discussed the program and fielded several questions and opinions last Thursday evening when Tracy Aaron, with the LCDHD, made a presentation on the exchange program.

Aaron, using a powerpoint presentation, showed the positive side of the needle exchange program, noting that “dirty” or “used infected” syringes was a leading cause of some deadly diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV, among others.

The program basically would set up a location, operated by health officials, for drug users to “exchange” dirty, used syringes for new syringes, which Aaron said cost a little less than a dollar each.

Aaron noted the primary question asked by the public is “why give needles to drug addicts,” in which she replied by showing statistics on how the program in some areas have cut down on the number of deaths from Hepatitis and AIDS because of the program.

The issue of opioid addition, which has grown drastically across the country, especially in Kentucky in recent years, has added to the problem. Aaron said that people had been given prescribed pain medications and had become “hooked on” opioids, which has led to a huge increase in overdose deaths.

Aaron noted syringe exchange clinics were not really new, being in place in some areas since the mid 1990s and several are located in Kentucky, including in four counties in the 10-county Lake Cumberland area: Russell, Adair, Pulaski and McCreary counties.

Health officials claim the syringe exchange clinics have shown to reduce the number of deaths from diseases due to use of infected syringes and also said the cost of implementing the program is much more feasible than treating diseases like HIV and Hepatitis brought on by unclean needle use.

Several members of the local board of health, including Dr. Wm C. Powell were on hand for the meting. Powell said the cost of treating a Hepatitis patient over time could reach up to $95,000, saying that was a high price compared to a .96 cent syringe.

The needle exchange program has been approved by both the district and local health boards, as well as the four aforementioned counties. However, some counties have been presented the proposal but declined to implement the program since it requires both the county and city governments’ approval.

Not everyone in attendance was enthused about the proposed exchange program, including some magistrates.

Magistrate Ricky Craig noted that according to CDC (Centers for Disease Control) statistics, 13 percent of Clinton Countians were diabetic and noted that those people, who have to use needles in most cases to control their disease, are not eligible for free syringes in most cases.

“It’s (syringe exchange) like promoting drug use,” Craig said.

Dr. Powell, however, said the point of the exchange program was not to promote drug use but rather prevent disease. However, Magistrate Mickey Riddle also agreed with Craig, saying the idea was not a cure for the (drug addition) disease and was not the right answer to the problem.

Craig also noted that the addict chooses to use the drug, while people who have illnesses like diabetes do not choose it. Aaron said in response, that users will exchange needles, clean or dirty, making the dirty needles a health hazard.

Clinton County Sheriff Jim Guffey, when asked his opinion on the program, said the situation was a “double edged sword.” He noted that most drug addicts or even dealers are RORed (Released on their Own Recognizance) in court and are not punished.

The sheriff agreed the program may cut back on diseases that cause illness and death but said he wasn’t sure the free needle program was the answer.

Judge/Executive Richard Armstrong noted that he was at first skeptical about the program himself, but the more he has learned about it, the more he was in favor of it. He noted that if the program saved just one life it would be worth it. “At least it’s an improvement,” he said.

Christy Guffey, also a member of the health board and other local health organizations, noted that there had been syringes found at the park and other places, that are a danger to children and others, such as people who clean up roadways. She said “we’ve got to keep prevention in the forefront.”

Magistrate Terry Buster said one of the problems he saw was “cross-county” addicts exchanging syringes. For example, he said if he was a drug user who lives in Clinton, he would not come to a local clinic to exchange a needle but would likely go to another area.

Likewise, he added, that many people from other counties, i.e., Wayne, Cumberland, and others who do not have the program, would be the ones utilizing the program locally.

Judge Armstrong also said, “it’s not a cure, but it is a step toward improvement,” and asked for a motion for the fiscal court to approve the proposal for a needle exchange program.

Buster then asked if the county could accept the proposal on a “trial basis” and rescind it later if the program deemed to fail, which apparently was an option left open to the court.

Magistrate Johnny Russell then made the motion to approve partnership in the syringe exchange program, with Buster and Hershell Key, each saying they would vote yes on a trial basis only. Magistrates Craig, Riddle and Patty Guinn voted no.

Judge Armstrong broke the tie with a yes vote, with the motion passing 4-3.

An exchange program of any type cannot be put in place without the consent of both the county and city approval and as of presstime Tuesday, the city had not been presented and/or voted on the proposal.

The presentation may be made at the next regular meeting of Albany City Council, which is scheduled for Tuesday, April 3.

The next regular meeting of Clinton Fiscal Court is scheduled for April 19 at 5 p.m. Both meetings are open to the public.