NORTHERN KENTUCKY (FOX19) - They're being debated in several Cincinnati neighborhoods, but in Kentucky, lawmakers are saying "no."
A bill that would have provided money for needle exchange programs, and allow first responders to carry heroin overdose antidotes wasn't acted upon by legislators.
A needle exchange program, which was recently removed from Springdale but continues to try and expand, allows people to exchange their dirty needles in for clean ones, no questions asked.
In our commitment to balanced news, supporters of the program say it helps prevent the spread of diseases, and provides outreach. But, those opposed say the exchange only enables the use of drugs instead of addressing the root of the epidemic.
Despite that bill's failure, needle cleanups are another tool in fighting that epidemic making its way into Northern Kentucky. A few weeks ago, the Heroin Impact Response Team in Northern Kentucky met and started talking about the rise of needles in public places, like parks.
As part of those cleanups, organizers worked to make traditional Easter egg hunts a lot safer.
"It's kind of like a tradition every year, come out and do a little Easter egg hunt," said Cody Esparza, who lives in Independence.
While it may be a tradition, Esparza never thought the heroin problem would become so big that local parks would be searched for needles.
"To hear that cops have to come and look for needles before Easter egg hunts, it just makes you kind of sad," said Esparza.
But it's the reality of how big the problem has become.
"There are so many needles showing up in all of these areas. The rate of Hepatitis C in Northern Kentucky is 24 times the national rate, and double the state rate," said Dr. Bonnie Hedrick, who works with the Northern Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.
She's also part of the area's Heroin Impact Response Team. She's asked their nine coalitions to work with local police and Easter egg hunt organizers ahead of the hunts to search parks for needles.
"Public safety is an issue, and with the absence of legislation that allows us to provide clean needles, we must do something locally to make sure those areas are clean," said Hedrick.
Those using the parks to spend time with family on Sunday are grateful some effort is being put forth to keep preserving that public safety.
"They've got to do what they can do with what they've got. I appreciate them doing it. It would be terrible if one of these kids were to step on a used needle or something. That'd be horrible," said Al Childers, who lives in Crittenden.
The cleanups aren't stopping with Easter egg hunts. Hedrick says these searches will continue through the summer in public places. Everything including what is found, and where needles are found will be documents, and presented to legislators and the community.
- Don't pick up a needle without protection.
- Mark areas where you find needles, and call police or fire officials to help you remove the needles. You may want to call them first to help you search.
On top of that, they suggest:
- Watch where you walk. Don't let children play in public areas without tennis shoes (hard sole shoes preferred).
- Educate children about what a syringe looks like and to NOT PICK UP anything that looks like it. Educate children to call for help.
- Learn about safe needle clean-up, as you may need to act immediately.
- Protect your own hands and feet with latex gloves — this will not prevent sticks but will keep skin protected from contaminants.
- Use tongs or pliers to pick the needles up - pick up from the middle of the barrel.
- Place the needle in a hard plastic container with a lid, such as an detergent bottle or cat litter container.
- Mark the container with the word "needles;" and drop the container off at local police or fire department, noting the location where you found it.