The Ohio House yesterday offered overwhelming support for a
bill that would authorize local health boards across the state to
establish syringe-exchange programs with fewer roadblocks, which could pave the way for Cincinnati to establish myriad programs across its neighborhoods most afflicted by intravenous drug use and bloodborne pathogens.
House Bill 92, sponsored jointly by Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Rep. Barbara Sears (R-Sylvania), would remove a restriction that stipulates programs can only be implemented when a local health emergency has been declared and lays out mandates for programs to protect the rights and educate the intravenous drug users who take advantage of the programs.
Syringe exchange programs have been the privy to significant controversy; opposers say that offering addicts the tools they need to fuel drug habits ultimately fuels destructive habits and sends the wrong message to drug abusers.
What’s helped turn the issue non-partisan, however, is overwhelming data supporting claims that the program saves lives. In 2004, the World Health Organization published a study on the effectiveness of syringe programming in reducing HIV/AIDS that found a “compelling case that (needle-exchange programs) substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among (injection drug users) and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.”
Adam Reilly, who is an HIV project manager for a local
healthcare provider, says that a syringe exchange program is already in
the works for Springdale; the location is expected to open in about a
month. He says that project has been seven years in the making because of how entangled efforts to establish the program become in bureaucracy.
The current bill would essentially take the issue out of
the political arena, Reilly says, and thrust the responsibility onto
health departments. The city of Cincinnati in 2012 already declared a public health emergency following significant proof of a citywide HIV/Hepatitis C epidemic sourced primarily from heroin abuse.
Cincinnati's now-defunct nonprofit agency STOP AIDS found through focus groups that the majority of intravenous drug users are Caucasian middle-aged males; 145 of 147 study subjects reported using ineffective methods to clean used equipment. Their data estimates that 4,000-6,000 people locally are currently living with HIV/AIDS.
STOP AIDS also estimated that spending $385,000 per year on a syringe exchange program has the potential to save nearly $50 million annually in health costs generated from contracting HIV or HCV infections.
To make the program as effective as possible, Reilly says other exchange programs offer participants assurance in writing that their identities will be protected; the House bill also says that future programs wold be required to encourage drug users to seek medical, mental health or social services, also offer counseling and other educational requirements.