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Louisville Metro Council Approves Needle Exchange Program

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Without debate, the Louisville Metro Council unanimously approved a measure Thursday evening giving local health officials approval to start a needle exchange program.

The ordinance was fast-tracked through the council in light of two public health crises in the area. Louisville—as well as much of the state—is experiencing a spike in heroin and intravenous drug use. Simultaneously, Scott County in Southern Indiana is battling an HIV outbreak.

Earlier this year, the Kentucky General Assembly gave local governments the ability to start a needle exchange program as part of legislative effort aimed at dealing with rampant heroin use in the state.

Councilman Rick Blackwell, D-12, introduced Louisville’s measure about two weeks ago.

Council members added an amendment Thursday to Blackwell’s original ordinance, though. Louisville Metro Health and Wellness is now required to present its plan to the council's public safety committee before implementing the exchange.

But there was no debate about whether Louisville should have a needle exchange program.

“I am very proud that here we are in a 100 percent agreement in this,” said Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13. “I think it shows that we do care about our community and every corner of our community.”

A needle exchange could help curb the spread of disease and keep others safe from accidental exposure to dirty needles, Welch said.

Earlier this week, Police Chief Steve Conrad told public safety committee members his officers were getting pricked by dirty needles often because people were hiding them.

Councilwoman Marianne Butler, D-15, said the program could also help local health officials reach out to people in the community struggling with drug addiction.

“About 30 percent of the people who participate in a program like this actually enter treatment within the first year,” she said.

Health officials are expected to have a plan ready to present sometime around June.

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