Brett Hoffland reports: Tri-State's first needle exchange program

(FOX19) - Drug users can now swap their dirty syringes for clean ones for free. It's part of the first needle exchange program now open in Hamilton County.

Last year, legislators approving a bill that lets communities set up programs for drug users to seek help, and exchange their used needles for clean ones.

The only other two in the state are in Cleveland and Portsmouth.

Those in favor of the program say it helps prevent the spread of Hepatitis C and other diseases that can be passed among drug users, while also providing outreach.

Those opposed say it enables drug users instead of addressing the root problems.

Programs like this are in 28 different states, but this is something that took eight years to bring to Hamilton County, specifically the Olde Gate Plaza in Springdale.

"We are losing close to a person every day in Hamilton County, death due to drug overdose. So it's a big problem," said Dr. Judith Feinberg, project medical director and UC professor of medicine.

In 2005 heroin wasn't nearly as bad as it is today, and that year Dr. Judith Feinberg discovered a disturbing trend.

"I started seeing a pattern of infectious diseases that I knew was connected to injection drug use," said Dr. Judith Feinberg.

So today, Dr. Feinberg and some volunteers are making a difference. Any addict can stop in and get a clean needle for their dirty one. It's confidential and additionally the grant-funded program offers testing for HIV, Hepatitis C, and pregnancy, as well as hopefully referrals for treatment.

"Let's keep them alive and healthy so when they're ready for recovery, when they're ready to say Doc I've had it, there's somebody here to treat," said Dr. Judith Feinberg.

"The idea is to really form a relationship with people so they feel comfortable with us," said project director Adam Reilly.

But not everyone agrees that this is the best practice.

"We need to get this stuff out of our streets and put a stop to it, quit promoting it," said Anthony Couch, former heroin addict.

Anthony Couch is a recovering heroin addict who's been clean for 25 months. He says it will help prevent the spread of disease. But he says a place like this that's only open a couple days a week is bad news for an addict.

"Like a junkie like me they're going to find ways and means to use any needle they can get a hold of," said Anthony Couch.

But Dr. Feinberg stresses they're not promoting drug use by any means, and they realize not every addict will show up, but something that's proven to decrease crime and drug use is worth working towards.

Springdale is the only community that allows this in the Tri-State. Dr. Feinberg says they hope to expand to other communities throughout Hamilton County once approval is secured.

The Springdale Exchange Project will initially operate on Mondays from 10am until 2pm. Then on Thursday afternoons from 3pm to 7pm.

Organizers say once they get more funding, they hope to expand their hours.

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