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Covington Takes Steps toward Reducing Increased Disease Rates Linked to Heroin Epidemic

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COVINGTON, Ky. – The operation of a substance abuse treatment outreach and disease prevention program that includes a needle and syringe exchange component was approved unanimously at Tuesday night’s Covington Board of Commissioners meeting.

The proposed program will be operated by the Northern Kentucky Health Department or a Health Department-approved party on the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Covington campus at 1500 James Simpson, Jr., Way. It would allow participants to exchange hypodermic needles and syringes, receiving clean needles in exchange for used ones.

The goal of the exchange is to reduce rising disease incidence related to the sharing of needles, syringes, and other equipment among intravenous drug users. This equipment can become contaminated with blood that contains hepatitis C, hepatitis B, HIV and other blood-borne viral infections and spread these diseases if reused or not disposed of properly.

According to the Northern Kentucky Health Department, the hepatitis C rates in the four counties of the Health Department District are among the highest in the nation, with a rate 2.7 times that of Kentucky and 19.5 times that of the United States.

Of those residents who tested positive for hepatitis C by the Health Department between 2012 and 2014, 80 percent reported a history of injection drug use.

Local cases of hepatitis B doubled from 2006 to 2013, with about one-third of those with hepatitis B who were contacted by the Health Department admitting to IV drug use as a risk factor for the infection.

The program also helps reduce the risk of harm to the public created by improperly disposed of contaminated drug injection equipment and to help individuals who use IV drugs gain access to access to health care services including substance abuse treatment programs.

“The statistics support the need for this program in our community,” City Manager Larry Klein said. “We will work with the community, Kenton County, the Health Department and law enforcement to ensure that the safety and well-being of our citizens is the highest priority of program operations.”

On March 24, 2015, the Kentucky General Assembly enacted legislation that included giving local health departments the authority to operate substance abuse treatment outreach and disease prevention programs that include a needle and syringe exchange component. The statute requires approval from city and county governments.

Program implementation is subject to the approval of the Kenton County Fiscal Court and Northern Kentucky Health Department Board of Health. A similar resolution will be on the agenda for the Kenton County Fiscal Court meeting on March 29.