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Louisville Needle Exchange Model Follows Best Practices, Drug Policy Director Says

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Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness is following best practice at the city’s needle exchange, says a national drug policy organization says.

Earlier this week, Senate President Robert Stivers questioned whether Louisville Metro Health officials are violating the state’s drug paraphernalia statute by not requiringparticipants to actually exchange needles. The General Assembly approved legislation this spring that allows local health departments to operate needle exchange programs.

This week, Stivers sought an attorney general’s opinion of whether Louisville’s needle exchange complies with state law.

“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.

But Daniel Raymond, policy director for the Harm Reduction Coalition, on Wednesday said the "need based negotiation" model in Louisville is the best practice for needle exchanges.

A strict “one for one” exchange—as Stivers suggested—would be a barrier for people, he said.

“People feel that they can’t show if they don’t have something to return, and then you end up with limited impact of the program,” he said.

In a news release sent Monday, the Louisville health department reported that 1,352 clean syringes were distributed, 189 used needles were collected and properly disposed of, and 12 participants received an HIV test.

In "one for one" exchanges, needle exchange programs get at least 80 percent of syringes back—and in some cases they receive more used syringes than distributed, Raymond said.

"Their offering people a safe place to dispose of syringes and once they have that option, people want to do the right things," Raymond said.

When asked about Stivers’ desire to “tighten up” language in the law to require local governments to have only “one for one” needle exchange program, Raymond said changes usually go in the other direction.

“Some states or communities start off by stipulating that an exchange program can only be run on a 'one- for- one' basis and then policy makers have to come back and say this isn’t working as well as we’d hoped, so we’re going to provide more flexibility," Stivers said.

Raymond said it's important to give the health department time to prove the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of its chosen model.