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State Senate President Questions Legality of Louisville's Needle Exchange

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Louisville's needle exchange is hardly off the ground and it's already drawing strong criticism from Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers.

Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, sent a letter to Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway Monday this week questioning whether Louisville Metro Health officials are in violation of the state's drug paraphernalia statute by not requiring participants to bring in used needles in order to receive clean ones.

Stivers is seeking the attorney general's opinion of whether Louisville's needle exchange complies with state law.

Louisville's health department is operating what's called a needs-based negotiation model, which provides multiple clean syringes regardless of whether participants bring in dirty needles.

"It is my opinion, just to do a handout versus an exchange is purely promoting the use of illegal drugs," said Stivers on a conference call Tuesday.

Stivers said he believes it sets a bad precedent and example to not require an exchange with participants.

"What good does it do to just hand them out and allow those needles to stay in the system to be dropped or placed in a garbage can or handed to somebody else?" he said.

Dr. Sarah Moyer, interim director of the health department, said in a statement she “believes the Louisville Metro Syringe Exchange Program is in compliance with SB 192 as well as with the guidelines established by the Kentucky Department for Public Health.”

She also said “the need based negotiation model is a best practice across the country.”

At the time he spoke with reporters, Stivers said he had not read the response from the Louisville Metro Health Department.

But he said he would like a one-to-one model for the needle exchange where participants receive the same number of sterile syringes that they bring in for disposal.

He said if the health department’s processes aren’t changed, he expects the issue to be addressed during the next session.

“I don’t know what the basis for the Jefferson County Louisville Metro Health Department is—what’s their rationale and why they have done it this way,"  Stivers said. "But I feel that it is outside of the intent and the good faith discussions that were held by house and Senate republicans and democrats in both chambers."