(Ohio News Connection) – New research examines the growth of syringe service programs in Ohio, and highlights the demand for continued support for them.
Also known as needle exchanges, SSPs provide access to sterile needles, and safe disposal of used needles, to people who use injection drugs.
Melissa Federman, Treuhaft chair for Health Planning at The Center for Community Solutions, explains these harm reduction programs reduce the spread of infectious diseases. She cites the success of the Cleveland program, which was Ohio’s only needle exchange for 20 years.
“We haven’t seen the spikes in Hepatitis C and HIV in Cuyahoga County that we’ve seen around the state,” she points out. “But what we also know about the exchanges is that clients who use them are five times more likely to engage in treatment services than their counterparts.”
The research from The Center for Community Solutions shows there were only six established needle exchanges in Ohio prior to 2016 when the state legalized local syringe programs. Ten more have opened since then, and another three are in development or newly launching.
Federman says most SSPs provide a number of other services that keep the public healthier, including disease testing and Hepatitis A and B vaccinations.
However, she notes most programs rely on private donations and volunteers, which can limit their reach.
“The syringe service program may exist only on Fridays,” she points out. “It may only exist on a Tuesday afternoon. And you see that all of them, as soon as they have additional funding, try to expand services, really, to meet the needs of their local clients.”
Federman adds several Ohio counties that are considered at risk for HIV outbreak do not have a needle exchange. She contends more private and public funding is needed.
“What we’re hoping for, especially because we continue to see gaps for counties at risk of outbreaks of HIV, that this becomes a call to action for additional and sustained funding for these programs,” she states.
The rate of new HIV infections among injection drug users in Ohio has doubled since 2012.