Kentucky attorney general opposes syringe exchanges despite evidence of their efficacy Skip to content

Kentucky attorney general opposes syringe exchanges despite evidence of their efficacy

The grant for the exchange was approved without the approval of the AG’s representative.

4 min read

The leader of the agency that makes grants from the state’s opioid settlements declined to vote for a grant with more money for a syringe-exchange program, saying Attorney General Russell Coleman does not support such programs – which are considered a key tool for reducing harm to people who inject drugs.

Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission Director Chris Evans, who works for Coleman, passed on a June 4 vote that approved a grant to the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention, one of 119 such county agencies.

“This application does increase outreach, which includes educational training, Narcan distribution and referrals to treatment,” Evans said. “However, the request does increase the funding of the syringe-service position, which the Office of the Attorney General does not support syringe exchange programs. So I will be passing on the vote of this application.”

Asked later why Coleman opposes syringe-exchange programs, Coleman spokesman Kevin Grout said in an email, “Attorney General Coleman is committed to supporting effective prevention, treatment and enforcement efforts. He strongly supports the distribution of Naloxone and other overdose reversal drugs. However, he cannot support syringe-exchange programs, which he believes enable drug use without effectively promoting recovery.”

Syringe exchanges are supported by research. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says injection drug users who have access to syringe exchanges are five times more likely to get treatment than those who don’t. Another study says the exchanges do not encourage drug use or increase the frequency of drug use among current users.

The exchanges were authorized by the state’s 2015 anti-heroin law, in an effort to thwart the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, which are commonly spread by the sharing of needles among intravenous drug users. As of March 14, the state had 80 operational syringe exchange programs in 65 counties.

Later voting against the grant request because of their opposition to syringe exchange programs were commission members State Treasurer Mark Metcalf and retired Master State Trooper Darren “Foot” Allen, whom Coleman appointed to fill a slot representing law enforcement.

Allen said, “There’s some people that I trust that tell me this is okay. However, I’m just not in favor of needle exchange. I suspect that this time next year, I won’t change my position but I am open to looking at that option,” he said.

Despite the opposition, Boyle County’s ASAP grant request for $282,610 passed with a 6-2 majority vote. The commission is comprised of nine voting and two non-voting members from the legislature.

Third round of grants approved

The Boyle County grant was the only one put up for a vote that had any opposition at the commission’s June 4 meeting. In all, the commission members approved 51 organizations to receive just over $12 million in grant money.

The legislature created the commission to distribute the state’s portion of the approximately $900 million in settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors, half of which goes to the state and the other half goes to cities and counties. The commission is housed in the attorney general’s office and is headed by Evans, a former chief operating officer for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Of the $12 million in this round of grant money, 28 of the awards were given for treatment and recovery, and 23 were given for prevention. This is the third round of state grants, with $32 million awarded to 59 groups in the first round and $13.9 million awarded to 34 groups in the second round.Asked for brief details of each grant, Grout said they would be announced next Thursday at a press conference at DV8 Kitchen-East End in Lexington, one of the grant recipients.

The 28 new treatment and recovery grants are:

Appalachian Regional Healthcare, $94,572.
Backroads of Appalachia, $167,025.
Boyle County ASAP Board, $282,610.
Celebrate Recovery Fairdale, $30,004.
Center for Employment Opportunities, $255,109.
Chrysalis House, $227,273.
Comprehend Inc., $426,087.
Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, $450,000.
Family Nurturing Center of Kentucky, $221,937.
Family Scholar House, $245,110.
Grin Grant, Lexington, $361,251.
Hope Center, Lexington, $680,280.
Hope Springs Church, $50,462.
Horsesensing Inc., $115,219.
Isaiah House, $250,000.
Ky. Hospital Research and Ed. Foundation (Ky. Hospital Assn.), $250,000.
Lake Cumberland Area Development District, $277,552.
Life Learning Center, $498,500.
Mercy Health - Marcum and Wallace Hospital, Irvine, $179,834.
Natalie's Sisters, $88,356.
Northeast Kentucky Regional Health Information Organization, $331,997.
Ramey-Estep Homes, $222,801.
Recovery Café Lexington, $276,278.
Transitions Inc., $156,000.
Voices of Hope - Lexington, Inc., $538,021.
Volunteers of America Mid-States, $664,587.
Four Rivers Behavioral Health, $232,251.
Young People in Recovery, $301,440.The 23 new prevention grants are:Anderson County ASAP, $171,100.
Appalachian Research & Defense Fund (Legal Aid), $125,000.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass, Inc., $185,301.
Boys and Girls Clubs of Kentuckiana, $200,000.
Carter County Public Library, $101,500.
Covington Partners, $225,450.
Cumberland Trace Legal Services (Legal Aid), $125,000.
DV8 Kitchen Vocational Training Foundation and DV8 Kitchens, $151,730.
Girl Scouts of Kentucky Wilderness Road Council, $59,052.
Jewish Family and Career Services, $77,207.
Legal Aid Society, $125,000.
Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, $125,000.
Mercy Health - Lourdes Hospital, $76,552.
Operation Parent, $87,011.
The Safety Blitz Foundation, $126,335.
Scott County Sheriff's Office, $91,847.
Taylor County Schools, $208,824.
Three Rivers District Health Department, Owenton, $320,803.
University of Kentucky Research Foundation, $380,572.
Operation UNITE, $751,850.
Wanda Joyce Robinson Foundation, $90,472.
WestCare Kentucky, $100,404.
Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater Louisville, $248,487.

The grant application portal is closed until the commission opens it for the next round of awards.


Written by Melissa Patrick. Cross-posted from KY Health News.

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Kentucky Health News

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism, based in the School of Journalism at UK, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.