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Columbus Dispatch: Cash-strapped clean needle initiative saved

By Rita Price, Columbus Dispatch

6/29/2018 – The city of Columbus and Franklin County are stepping in to save a cash-strapped program that provides clean syringes and other harm-reduction services for drug users.

Safe Point, run by Equitas Health at its Short North medical center, now has sufficient funding to operate through the end of the year, officials announced Friday.

Columbus Public Health is contributing $125,000, the county is providing $100,000, and the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County will continue to pay for an alcohol counselor at Safe Point. Equitas Health also is to contribute $100,000.

“Columbus Public Health is pleased that we could work with our partners to ensure that these critical services continue to be available to those who are suffering from the brain disease of addiction,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts said in a news release. “The comprehensive harm-reduction services offered at Safe Point connect people to treatment and protect them, their families and the entire community by preventing overdose and the spread of infectious diseases.”

County Commissioner Maryilyn Brown said the program “literally saves hundreds of lives in our community.”

Its future, however, has been uncertain, and Equitas sought help from the city and county earlier this month. Advocates also said this week that the state could help by submitting a form to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to open up another potential source of revenue.

But the Ohio Department of Health has instead blocked that avenue with bureaucratic delays, according to the drug-policy advocacy group Harm Reduction Ohio. That prevents programs such as Safe Point from accessing any of the $7.6 million in annual federal funding the state is expected to receive for HIV surveillance and prevention through mid-2022, the group said.

State health officials counter that they are taking time to ensure that HIV-prevention programs wouldn’t be adversely affected if the money were redirected.

Franklin County has more than 4,300 active heroin users, local officials say. The Safe Point program served 3,139 people last year and distributed more than 1.2 million syringes.

William J. Hardy, president and CEO of Equitas, thanked the city and county for support and said the agency looks forward “to a long-term plan to sustain this life-saving program.”

Read the original story here.