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Newport’s board of commissioners authorizes needle exchange program to help battle heroin epidemic

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

In an effort to help battle the increasing heroin epidemic that is plaguing many counties around Kentucky, Newport’s board of commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to authorize the Northern Kentucky Health Department to administer a needle exchange program located at St. Elizabeth.

“It will be for a mobile unit located at St. E. [Urgent Care] in south Newport,” Newport city manager Thomas Fromme said. “Covington set the tone a while back when they passed their resolution. We’re willing to assist the health department and St. Elizabeth in any way that we can.”

Newport’s board of commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to authorize the Northern Kentucky Health Department to administer a needle exchange program located at St. Elizabeth in south Newport.

The use of dirty needles to inject heroin has caused concerns of a new HIV epidemic around the commonwealth. Newport Mayor Jerry Peluso told those in attendance at Monday’s meeting that now is the time for action.

“We hope other communities join us in this fight,” Peluso said after the board’s 5-0 vote to authorize the needle exchange program. “It’s an epidemic that’s affecting many lives throughout this nation. I want to thank everyone for their patience while we’ve studied this issue closely.”

Syringe exchange programs have existed and been studied extensively in the United States since 1988. They are community-based programs that provide access to sterile needles and syringes free of cost, facilitate safe disposal of used needles and syringes and offer safer injection education.

According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, syringe exchange programs in Kentucky provide link to critical services and programs, including substance-use disorder treatment programs, and overdose prevention education.

Fromme said an extensive survey of Newport residents and groups revealed 39.5 percent favored the mobile unit through St. Elizabeth, while 19.7 percent wanted a program strictly through the health department. Another 19.7 percent was against the program, while 21 percent had no preference.

Thomas Fromme

“The response was that 80 percent of our residents were in favor of the needle exchange program,” he said. “I went through the neighborhood groups, and the citizen advocacy groups. We had some people from outside the city, but 95 percent of those who took the surveys were Newport residents.”

Fromme told the audience Monday that the numbers had flip-flopped in the past few years from 80 percent against the needle exchange program. “People have become educated about this danger,” he said. “People now 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 said there is no timeline for implementation for the needle exchange program in Newport. “It’s all up to the health care department and St. Elizabeth. Our board did an outstanding job of educating themselves on this subject. I would like to think it will set an example other cities will follow.”

• In other items of note, Peluso proclaimed this Wednesday (Feb. 28) as Newport Professional Firefighters Local 45 I.A.F.F. Day.

• Representatives of Ray, Foley & Hensley presented an audit report and gave the city of Newport positive reviews for how it has managed its finances the past year.

The board of commissioners will convene again in a caucus meeting on March 12 at 7 p.m.

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