Needle exchange in Louisville operating the way the law intended, House Judiciary Chair says

07/13/2015 12:47 PM

Needle exchanges sparked controversy when they were debated in the legislature, and now that programs are starting to be put in place they continue to create heartburn for lawmakers.

In Louisville the local run needle exchange program has delivered over 1,000 needles, but handed out just hundreds in return.

The “free exchange” in Louisville is concerning for GOP leaders, including Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, who says that is not the way the bill was intended to operate. Stivers says the actions of the exchange could send a signal that the city approves of drug abuse.

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, told Pure Politics the exchange in Louisville is operating as the law intended with checks and balances at the local level.

“Locals can make their own decisions on how they want to go about this — that’s the point,” Tilley said. “We can’t micromanage local control. So, that’s why I say I do think Louisville is operating lawfully.”

Stivers has requested an Attorney General’s opinion on the matter, and is anticipating filing legislation in the 2016 session to mandate a one-to-one exchange.

As those calls for a review of the law take place, Tilley said a lot of that discussion should be predicated upon what has been accomplished as a result of the exchange.

“If in fact Louisville is seeing a good participation, they’re seeing the exchange rate pick up with the way they are operating it — then I would like to have a discussion with Senate President Stivers, who I have worked very closely with on multiple pieces of drug policy, I have great respect for where his heart and mind are at on these matters,” Tilley said. “There is nothing illogical on the argument at all; you can see it both ways.”

Ultimately, Tilley said the General Assembly should look and see that health departments are meeting the goals of reducing blood borne illnesses and getting more people into treatment programs.

As the debate over needle exchanges continues, Tilley said that between the year 2000 and 2012 Hepatitis C rates climbed 1,600 percent in the commonwealth.

“That should sound an alarm to all of us,” he said.

Just 40 miles from Louisville, the small town of Austin, Indiana has seen an explosion in their rate of HIV. More than 150 people in the 4,200 person community is infected with the life-threatening disease.

“That can happen right here if we’re not careful,” he said.

Other communities in Kentucky, Tilley said are interested in operating some form of needle exchanges.

In Lexington local officials are planning to kick off their exchange in early September, and their program will differ from what Louisville has done.

“I think what you are seeing in Louisville and Lexington is what I envisioned — which is Louisville deciding under certain medical protocol to run their program on a needs based model, and then Lexington unanimously approving an exchange more of a one or a one-plus exchange.”

“And, I think Louisville wants that exchange, but again I think you have to build the trust. You have to get folks in the door. Get them into treatment, and again, those sharing needles — it’s important they not get turned away.”


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