By JoAnne Viviano for the Columbus Dispatch
9/16/2018 – An agency that aims to prevent the spread of disease by providing intravenous drug users in central Ohio with clean syringes will begin limiting the number of needles participants can receive without exchanging used needles.
Beginning next week, clients of Equitas Health’s Safe Point program, which operates on Tuesdays and Saturdays, will be limited to 10 clean syringes per program day — 80 or 90 per month— unless they turn in dirty syringes.
Clients exchanging needles at the program’s Short North location will receive one clean syringe for every needle they turn in, up to a maximum of 280 per month.
The change comes as part of a concession made by Equitas to receive funding from the city of Columbus and Franklin County, said Equitas spokesman Joel Diaz.
Since opening in January 2016, Safe Point has operated as an “access” program, which does not require clients to return used syringes, as opposed to an “exchange” program, which does. The new model is a hybrid of the two, Diaz said.
Safe Point, operated with Columbus Public Health oversight, is a “harm reduction” program that seeks to prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases through needle sharing. Equitas believes access programs are most effective, Diaz said, and there are concerns about introducing barriers to potential clients.
However, he said the hybrid approach will allow Equitas to determine the impact of the exchange requirement. He said proper disposal of syringes is “of utmost importance,” and other efforts include neighborhood cleanups.
Dr. Mysheika Roberts, Columbus health commissioner, said Columbus Public Health, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther’s office and the Franklin County commissioners felt the exchange component was necessary for two reasons: to cut down on the number of used needles in alleys, parks and elsewhere in the community, and to encourage users to visit the Safe Point program more frequently to increase the likelihood that they will enter substance-abuse treatment.
Safe Point also distributes naloxone, a medication that can save the lives of overdosing opioid users, and it offers wound care and other health-related services.
The current Safe Point annual budget, running through June 30, is $465,354. The county has committed $83,333 for that period, with additional funds to cover some costs into 2021. The city has committed $125,000 through December, with the funding level for 2019 to be determined. An additional $20,000 is anticipated from the private Chicago-based Comer Family Foundation, which focuses on education, health, the environment and culture.
Equitas will fund the balance. Previously, Equitas had been picking up the costs of the bulk of the needle program, with some help from the city. Government funds are used for expenses such as personnel, rent and security, but not for the purchase of syringes.
In 2017, Safe Point served 3,139 people and distributed more than 1.2 million syringes. The program collected about 143,000 used needles and distributed 13,600 disposal containers.
Local officials estimate that about 4,300 people use heroin in Franklin County each day.
Safe Point is offered at the Equitas Health Short North Medical Center, 1033 N. High St., from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays (with the capacity to help 60 people) and from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays (with the capacity to help 75 people). For further information, call 614-460-1406 or email email@example.com.