SPRINGDALE, Ohio – Drug addicts will now be able to exchange one used syringe for a clean one Mondays and Thursdays in Springdale due to a public health initiative called the Cincinnati Exchange Project.
The Cincinnati Exchange Project opened the doors to its mobile facility in Springdale on Monday in an effort to combat the spread of disease -- especially among heroin users. The premise of the program is simple: Keep addicts safe and keep dirty needles off of streets, decreasing the chance for blood-borne pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis C to spread, leaders of the effort said.
“The idea is to keep users healthy, and to keep them alive, until they are ready for a drug recovery program,” said Judith Feinberg, professor of internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati and director of the program. “Will that be 100 percent of the people? No. It won’t be 100 percent of anybody with any substance abuse problem.”
Feinberg was awarded nearly $100,000 in grants from Interact Health and the Ohio Department of Health to provide clean syringes, testing and overdose education to addicts in Hamilton County.
She admits Springdale wasn’t the “ideal” location for the program, but it was the most receptive.
“You can’t arrest your way out of a heroin epidemic,” she said. “There have to be other ways of dealing with this situation than throwing everyone into jail.” Springdale police cooperated with the initiative to ensure that users won’t be targeted in that area and arrested on paraphernalia charges.
Feinberg was to meet with Mayor John Cranley Tuesday to discuss expanding a needle exchange program Downtown.
“We’re hopeful now, with a new police chief and new mayor,” Feinberg said.
This is the third needle exchange program to operate in Ohio, following Cleveland in 1995 and Portsmouth in 2011. Infections rates were sliced in half after programs opened in each city.
Portsmouth, the county seat of Scioto County, with a population of about 21,000 people, was overrun with drug problems, she said.
“The town had 11 pill mills running and prescriptions for 75,000 (Oxycontin) pills in 2010 for every man, woman and child in Scioto County.''
Authorities point to a tightening prescription painkillers as the precursor to heroin abuse that is plaguing the Tri-State and has reached near epidemic proportions in Northern Kentucky.
“Heroin in very cheap, that’s the sad part. It’s dirt cheap and you can get it anywhere,” she said, adding that about $10 will buy a high that last between four and six hours. “It’s not an inner-city problem, it’s urban and rural.”
Needles on the other hand? Not so easy to get.
For those who don't have a prescription for needles at a pharmacy, or those who are unable to buy insulin needles from a diabetic, addicts used ulterior methods to obtain syringes -- even if it meant risking their lives.
Adam Reilly, program director at the Cincinnati Exchange Project, said desperate addicts take extreme risks.
“A few years ago, we had people telling us that (heroin users) hang out in the same kind of areas. They’d be walking through a park or an alley and find syringes, pick them up and then use them. Most people didn’t clean them or make any effort to try to sterilize it – that’s creating a lot of infection,” he said.
“Then we had people telling us they went places like tractor supply stores to buy cattle syringes and used those,” Reilly said. “Those, you couldn’t inject into the vein, you’d had to hit the arm and that’s pretty extreme. You could easily overdose.”
Now, Feinberg said, she is seeing people in UC's IV clinic whose primary risk of HIV comes from shooting heroin.
There is also increased risk of contracting hepatitis C among heroin users and treating it can cost as much as $100,000 for each patient, she said.
Hamilton County has seen an increase of heroin overdose deaths in recent months, with emergency workers getting called three to four times a day on reports of overdose. In 2012, 606 Ohioans died from opiate overdoses - more than double the number who died of the same caused in 2010, she said.
The Ohio Department of Health grant will be used to educate users and their families about overdoses. With a signed prescription from Feinberg and funding from Project Dawn , families can learn to administer Naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of an opiate overdose.
In addition to the needle exchange, the mobile facility also provides on-site, 15-minute testing for HIV, hepatitis C and pregnancy. Workers will also provide counseling, medical and rehabilitation resources.
“People are really putting themselves at risk,” Reilly said. “And a lot of people aren’t educated on it. No one teaches you how to shoot up properly.”
Feinberg said she encourages users to shoot up together, to prevent an overdose death. If someone is present, they can administer Naloxone and call 911.
“There are a significant number of people whose lives we can help improve and return them to their families as productive
citizens,” Feinberg said. “Every addict is someone’s child, parent, sibling or spouse. It’s a terrible problem that can destroy families. We want to prevent that as much as possible.”
The mobile facility will be in the parking lot of Olde Gate Plaza, 290 Northland Blvd. in Springdale, each Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and each Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Appointments are not necessary and anonymity is honored. Call 513-584-5349 for more information.