Hamilton County's needle exchange program is fully operational. And officials are hoping it will do more than just allow people to trade dirty syringes for clean ones.
Hamilton County Health Commissioner Tim Ingram says it can lead to more treatment as the county continues to face an opioid epidemic.
"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who inject drugs and use a blood-borne infectious disease prevention program like this one, are five times more likely to enter treatment for substance abuse disorders and are more likely to reduce or stop injecting opioids," Ingram says.
There's a public safety component too. Ingram says "Every syringe exchange project removes one infected syringe from our streets, parks, and places where children play and people work. Removing these from the environment reduces the risk for innocent people being needle-stuck and possibly infected with a life-threatening disease."
Ingram says the number of HIV cases has climbed from 127 cases in 2012 to 187 last year. He blames the use of dirty needles to inject drugs.
The van will offer testing and treatment referral for communicable diseases including HIV and hepatitis, along with pregnancy testing, and access to naloxone.
Right now, the van is at four different locations:
· Mondays – 2-5 p.m.; 1670 Cooper St., Northside
· Tuesdays – noon-5 p.m.; 400 block of Crawford St., Middletown
· Wednesdays – 2-5 p.m.; 65 E. Hollister St., Mt. Auburn
· Thursdays – 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; Hamilton County Public Health, 250 Wm. Howard Taft, Corryville
Ingram says they are looking for more communities willing to host the van. He says they do expect some resistance to the idea. "There's always going to be some folks who don't understand what we're trying to do. It's important to explain, to dispel the myths, the fiction, and give the facts."
He says similar programs have operated in other cities, including New York, Baltimore, Seattle and San Francisco, for decades.
Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan is supportive of the exchange program.
"A common misconception is that these programs lead to an increase in crime," Synan says. neighborhoods in Baltimore with an exchange program actually experienced an eleven percent decrease in break-ins and burglaries."
Synan says exchange programs have led to dramatic decreases in the number of first responders who have been accidentally stuck by a needle.
The Exchange Project is sponsored by Hamilton County Public Health, Interact for Health, Cincinnati Health Department, and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.