COVINGTON, KY (FOX19) - Covington's Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a needle exchange program at the Covington campus of St. Elizabeth Healthcare.
"This program is not intended to solve the heroin problem but it is part of the overall region response to the heroin epidemic that we have in Northern Kentucky," said Dr. Lynne Saddler, with the Northern Kentucky Health Department.
Participants would be able to exchange hypodermic needles and syringes, receiving clean needles in exchange for used ones.
"These folks are injecting. They're going to inject whether they have clean needles or dirty needles," said Dr. Saddler.
Almost one year ago, Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill giving local health departments the authority to operate needle and syringe exchanges, but only with approval from city and county government.
The program would be operated by the Northern Kentucky Health Department or a Health Department-approved party, said Covington spokesperson Liz Barlik.
"The statistics support the need for this program in our community," City Manager Larry Klein said. "We will work with the community, Kenton County, the Health Department and law enforcement to ensure that the safety and well-being of our citizens is the highest priority of program operations."
City officials say local cases of hepatitis B doubled from 2006 to 2013, with about one-third of those with hepatitis B who were contacted by the Health Department admitting to IV drug use as a risk factor for the infection.
"This program is not intended to solve the heroin problem but it is part of the overall region response to the heroin epidemic that we have in Northern Kentucky," said Dr. Saddler.
The vote will head to the Kenton County Fiscal Court and health department board.
Grant County is the only other county in Northern Kentucky with a needle exchange program.