Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette Dr. Joseph Lee, right, addresses the Leitchfield City Council on Monday regarding the need for a needle exchange program in Grayson County, as, from left, Mayor William Thomason and City Councilmembers Kelly Stevenson and Margaret Fey listen.

Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette

Dr. Joseph Lee, right, addresses the Leitchfield City Council on Monday regarding the need for a needle exchange program in Grayson County, as, from left, Mayor William Thomason and City Councilmembers Kelly Stevenson and Margaret Fey listen.

The proposed Grayson County needle exchange program passed its second hurdle this week, receiving approval by the Leitchfield City Council.

Following the City Council's approval on Monday, the program will next be presented to the Grayson County Fiscal Court, which will make the final decision in January on whether to implement the program locally.

Dr. Joseph Lee addressed the City Council Monday night in regards to the need for the program and why the Grayson County Board of Health, of which he is a member, voted to implement one this past summer.

Lee provided statistics regarding Grayson County's rising drug abuse, with 28 drug overdose deaths reported in Grayson County in 2017. As local drug abuse rises, officials say, so does Grayson County’s vulnerability to an HIV outbreak and exposure to other diseases such has hepatitis, due to needle sharing and unprotected sex.

Lee said that, while methamphetamine use has remained steady in recent years, the use of heroin via injection is on the rise due to the decrease in opioids prescribed.

In 2016, 5 million doses of controlled substances were prescribed in Grayson County, and while they have since become more difficult to prescribe, opioids remain highly addictive and those who use and become addicted to them will often seek out other narcotics when they are unable to procure opioids.

This leads to needle sharing and, as a result, increased risk of contracting diseases such as HIV or hepatitis.

This is where a needle exchange comes in, according to Lee, who explained that, rather than enabling drug users, a needle exchange program, formally referred to as a harm reduction program, seeks to prevent the spread of diseases by allowing individuals who would use drugs regardless to exchange their used needles for clean syringes.

"This is a public health concern," said Lee.

If approved, the Grayson County needle exchange program would allow drug users to anonymously exchange their used needles for sterilized needles on a "fairly strict" one-to-one basis, meaning that, if an individual were to bring in 10 used needles, he or she could exchange them for 10 clean ones, Lee said.

Additionally, Grayson County Public Health Director Mindy Renfrow said the program would also be open to individuals from outside of Grayson County, as out-of-county needle exchanges such as the Louisville Metro Exchange Program in Louisville, Kentucky deal with several people from Grayson County.

There would be rules and regulations, however, such as the requirement that individuals who make use of the needle exchange program must hear about treatment options available to them. Additionally, if officials become suspicious that individuals are taking advantage of the program (i.e., coming in multiple times in a single day), they will be barred from the program.

Lee said that while a needle exchange program is not a final solution to the problem of drug abuse, if it can reduce the spread of diseases and get more people into rehabilitation programs, it will be a success.

City Councilmember Harold Miller said that, while he respects everyone's opinion about needle exchange programs, if someone of Lee's stature is pushing for them, he is not "just blowing smoke."

City Councilmember and Leitchfield Mayor-Elect Rick Embry said that communities all across the nation have established needle exchange programs to great success, and Leitchfield would be foolish to turn such a program down.

Leitchfield Mayor William Thomason agreed and recommended that the City Council vote in favor of implementing the program locally. The City Council then voted to do so.

To learn more about needle exchange programs, visit the Grayson County Health Department on Tuesday, Dec. 4 between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. during which time the Kentucky Department of Public Health's mobile needle exchange unit will be on hand to educate the public about the program, as well as to provide free Narcan to attendees. No needles may be exchanged at the mobile unit.

In other business, the City Council:

*Voted to order the new playground structure for James D. Beville Community Park at the end of the year with installation tentatively scheduled for Spring 2019.

*Voted to hire Dennis Fentress as the next City Attorney. Fentress will work alongside current City Attorney Kenneth Smart until Smart retires in January, at which point, Fentress will fully take over the position.

*Voted to appoint Tim Bocock to the Tax Appeals Board for a three-year term (Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2021) and Jim McGrew to fill the remainder of the late Ralph Harrison's term on the Grayson County Airport Board, which will end on Dec. 31, 2019.

*Voted to re-appoint John Popham to the Grayson County Airport Board for a three-year term (Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2021); Steve Kinkade and Kendall Clemons to the Planning Commission for four-year terms (Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2022); and Jay Nichols to the Board of Adjustments for a four-year term (Jan. 1, 2019 through Jan. 1, 2023).

*Scheduled a special meeting for Dec. 28 at 5 p.m. at Leitchfield Fire Station 1 for the new city officials to take their oaths of office.

*Granted approval to the local Mission Hope for Kids to use a room on the second floor of Leitchfield City Hall beginning in the fall of 2019 for an after-school program for children in grades 1 and 2.