LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville is now the first city in Kentucky to approve a program allowing heroin addicts to exchange dirty needles for clean ones.

Metro Council passed the controversial needle exchange ordinance Thursday night, 22-0.

Those on the front line believe it's a good first step toward fighting the growing heroin problem.

Ben Walsh struggled with drugs, including heroin, for 13 years.

“My addiction began when I was around 12-years-old, and it started with marijuana,” he said.

Walsh found recovery at the Healing Place.

“The hard part was giving it up; giving up the addiction because you get so comfortable with that lifestyle,” said Walsh.

His lifestyle included using dirty needles.

“No pharmacies would give them to me, and so I had to use other peoples. I shared a lot of needles. Luckily no diseases have come from that,” he said.

The threat of an epidemic of HIV and Hepatitis C, like in in Scott Co, Indiana, right now,

 is one reason Metro Council approved the needle exchange ordinance.

“I think it's a necessary step, and it's going to help a lot of people,” said Patrick Fogarty, chief counselor at the Healing Place and, himself, a former heroin addict.

He believes the exchange will also help abusers find treatment.

“It's not going to be where you just walk in, drop off your needles and get needles. There's going to be help available and, for me, that's the most important part,” said Fogarty.

The Metro Health Department is still developing the specifics of the program, but one aim will be to measure just how serious the heroin problem is in Louisville.

“That number's going to be staggering. I think it's a lot higher than any projected figure. Here at the Healing Place, 90-percent of our clients are a heroin abuser,” said Fogarty.

Walsh admits the program will likely not be an instant success among addicts.

“No, I don't, to be honest. I think just the main thing with the whole needle exchange is preventing the spread of diseases,” he said.

The Health Dept. must outline its plan with Metro Council before it begins the needle exchange program.

The department spokesman did not respond to WDRB's request for comment.



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