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Needle Exchanges Called Powerful Weapon to Fight Opioid Abuse

Ohioans who are more educated about syringe exchanges show more support for the programs, compared with those who are less familiar. (Todd Huffman/Flickr)
Ohioans who are more educated about syringe exchanges show more support for the programs, compared with those who are less familiar. (Todd Huffman/Flickr)
January 22, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio – With Ohio still in the grip of the opioid crisis, new data suggests better education is needed about the benefits of one harm reduction tool.

Needle exchange programs allow injection drug users to exchange used syringes for new, sterile syringes.

In a recent poll, 6-in-10 Ohio adults who said they are familiar with the programs were more likely to be in favor, to just 4-in-10 who were less informed about the exchanges.

Melissa Green, harm reduction manager at Columbus Public Health, which operates an exchange, says people who inject drugs are about five times more likely to enter addiction treatment when they engage in harm reduction efforts.

"The intent is to keep clients alive and as healthy as possible until the day that they are ready for treatment,” she explains. “This is a really critical avenue in being able to empower clients to think about behavior modification and ultimately get them into recovery."

There are nine needle exchanges operating in Ohio, but the poll, released by Interact for Health, found less than half of Ohio adults are somewhat or very familiar with the programs.

Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner Tim Ingram explains many needle exchanges also offer free infectious disease testing, overdose medications and other addiction services.

"It's really meeting people where they are with addiction and helping them keep from getting further sick by preventing the secondary infections of Hepatitis and HIV while we are educating them and testing them as well as getting them into treatment," he states.

Hamilton County last week announced it is expanding its syringe exchange program, which Ingram says is another step toward ending the opioid epidemic.

"We have to face this monster,” he stresses. “Saying it's not in our backyard and not in our community is just absolutely wrong. This is such a pervasive problem in our society."

Opponents maintain needle exchanges enable those who are addicted to continue using.

But research shows the programs help reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use.



Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH