City leaders in Glasgow have signed off on a syringe exchange for intravenous drug users. The program would allow addicts to swap dirty needles for clean ones at the local health department.
The measure narrowly passed Monday evening on a 5-4 vote. Two council members were absent and another abstained from voting.
One of the goals is to stem the spread of infectious diseases like Hepatitis-C and HIV.
Some opponents have argued the needle swap will enable addicts, but supporters say it’s a way to develop a relationship with drug users and convince them to get tested or seek treatment.
For Councilman Wendell Honeycutt, the vote was personal. As he cast his vote in favor of the needle exchange, he thought about two friends who battled cocaine addiction. One got clean, the other didn’t.
"I spoke to one of them this past week. I had a pet die," Honeycutt said. "The one that received counseling called to tell me how sorry they were that my pet died. The other one called to beg for money. That's the difference in their lives."
Honeycutt says he knows of 12 addicts from Barren County who are currently going to Bowling Green’s needle exchange, so he understands the need for one locally. Honeycutt was initially against the program, but he says a number of controls are in place that should prevent an increase in crime or a high number of addicts coming to Barren County from other towns.
The program will be run for a four-hour period one day a week. While the needle swap is anonymous, participants will have to give their zip code so the health department can keep track of how many are coming from other counties.
Approval from the Glasgow City Council was the last step in the approval process. The Barren County Health Department's board and Barren County Fiscal Court had previously voted in support of a needle exchange. The program is expected to be in place by early March.
The Kentucky General Assembly approved a measure in 2015 allowing local governments to set up the exchanges in response to the state’s heroin epidemic.