Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette Grayson County Judge Executive Kevin Henderson, middle, addresses attendees of last Friday's Fiscal Court meeting.

Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette

Grayson County Judge Executive Kevin Henderson, middle, addresses attendees of last Friday's Fiscal Court meeting.

Citing an outpouring of negative responses from the community, the Grayson County Fiscal Court officially voted against the implementation of a harm reduction/needle exchange program this month.

During a special meeting held Feb. 8, the court unanimously voted against the program, despite a number of magistrates' expressing their belief that, after being educated on it, the program has merit.

Opening the discussion was Dr. Isaac Miller, who said magistrates were unfairly characterized as indecisive following their decision not to vote on the issue in January, and he commended them, as well as Judge-Executive Kevin Henderson and local law enforcement, for working to educate themselves on the topic and contribute to the discussion.

Miller then cited the various organizations -- local, state, and federal -- that support this program, particularly the medical field as a whole. He said the Twin Lakes Medical Executive Committee and the Twin Lakes Medical Foundation support the program, adding that the Kentucky Department of Public Health first came to Grayson County to ask health officials to address the problem of drug use and the spread of disease through intravenous needle sharing.

Miller also added that the federal government, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, supports the program, as did the Grayson County Board of Health and Leitchfield City Council, both of which voted to implement the program in Grayson County.

According to Miller, 17 case reviews over the last 12 years have shown needle exchange programs successfully reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis without resulting in an increase or decrease in drug use.

"Time is of the essence on this decision," Miller said, noting that Grayson County is at high risk of an outbreak of one of the aforementioned diseases.

At the conclusion of Miller's presentation, Henderson addressed the court, saying that the needle exchange, a program that would permit IV drug users to exchange used needles for clean ones at the health department, is a tough topic to address and he takes responsibility for the failure to garner a second to a motion last month that would have implemented the program locally.

Henderson said that, after that motion died, he should have asked the court to either vote for or against it, but he did not.

"This is new to me, just as it is new to them," he said, adding that he took issue with the magistrates' being called "cowards" after failing to vote on the issue of the needle exchange in January.

"No one sitting behind any of these desks are cowards," said Henderson. "They're outstanding individuals."

Henderson commended the Grayson County Health Department and other local healthcare professionals for their work to educate the public on the needle exchange program, but said that, in order for the program to be supported, public perception on it must first be changed.

And the public's current perception of the needle exchange, county officials say, is, by a wide margin, negative.

2nd District Magistrate Darin Whitely, who made the motion last month to implement the program, said he continues to support a needle exchange, but the majority of the residents in his district with whom he spoke on the issue said they do not feel the same way, and he feels he must serve as their voice in county government.

3rd District Magistrate Tommy Higdon said he encountered the same response and believes it is due to the county's simply not being educated on the program, which will be vital if the program is to be successful locally.

Following discussion, Henderson entertained a motion to either approve or deny the needle exchange program, and the Fiscal Court voted unanimously against implementing it.

Despite voting against the implementation of a local needle exchange program, county officials said that the issue can be brought for a vote again in the future after Grayson County residents have been better educated on its merits.

In other business, the Fiscal Court:

•Heard a presentation of Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center CEO Wayne Meriwether in which he requests that the Fiscal Court pass an ordinance prohibiting smoking in indoor public places and businesses.

Thus far, the cities of Leitchfield, Clarkson, and Caneyville have all implemented smoke-free ordinances, but, Meriwether said, it would further protect the county from the dangers of secondhand smoke were a countywide ordinance passed, particularly in areas that fall outside of these cities' limits.

No action was taken on this matter during the meeting to allow county officials time to research the issue.

•Voted to purchase two Kenworth dump trucks from Palmer Trucks for $131,375 each to be financed on a seven-year lease-to-own term at 4.15 percent interest through the Kentucky Association of Counties.

The annual payment for both trucks will total $41,000.