CINCINNATI -- As heroin use skyrockets across the Tri-State, two communities are fighting to ban a controversial program created to treat addicts.
Opiate drugs like heroin are not new, but rapid use throughout the region has reached epidemic proportions.
In Hamilton County:
- Someone dies every other day of a drug overdose, most due to opiate abuse, according to recent studies.
- Hepatitis C infection rates among young people have more than doubled in the past five years, mostly due to injecting drugs.
- 36 percent of new HIV infections are attributed to injection drug use, usually opiates.
Hoping to reduce the risk and lower the ominous statistics, a free needle exchange program was created in Springdale.
“Heroin and discarded needles are a real problem that’s spreading,” said Adam Reilly, an HIV educator who volunteers with the Hamilton County Response to the Opioid Epidemic. “We started to see more people shooting up around the city, and there were no resources available to deal with it.”
But the Cincinnati Exchange Project was met with opposition. The mobile center, originally set up in the Olde Gate Plaza in Springdale, was kicked out after a city council vote.
In an attempt to relocate to Lower Price Hill, the program was met with even more opposition.
At a community meeting to discuss the van's presence in Lower Price Hill Monday, the Lower Price Hill Community Council voted against the mobile center.
Council members claimed they have documents from “reputable sources” that show similar exchange projects attract drug dealers.
The group also claimed the exchange project was declared unwelcome in a host of other Cincinnati communities.
"The project is of purely temporary value,” said Lower Price Hill Council Secretary Eileen Gallagher. “It is a placebo for addicts. It gives them needles. It gives them a prescription drug, Narcan. It does nothing to help the addict on the road to recovery."
Gallagher said she doesn't want the needle exchange program in her neighborhood.
In Deer Park, there is a similar needle exchange clinic called Prime Health Group. Residents there are hoping to ban it because it is near a school.
"Why not do it in a logical way and move from Deer Park into someplace where you're going to blend in a little bit better," said Deer Park resident Phyllis Mitchell.
Like Lower Price Hill community members, Deer Park residents also met Monday to discuss the future of their local needle exchange program.
At the meeting's conclusion, council members said they would take resident concerns to the zoning board.
Prime Health Group has angered many parents of students at Amity Elementary School near its location on E. Galbraith Road. Dozens held a protest Saturday in an effort to compel the organization to move to another part of town.
While residents want the clinic to move, there is no law that prohibits an addiction center from being near a school.
Despite this, Gallagher said she believes these clinics will continue to be shunned.
"No neighborhood or community that has been approached wants it,” she said. “They have been rejected so far by 11. (Lower Price Hill) is No. 12."