Safe Point: Fighting Disease, Saving Lives, and Giving Hope

article3-oct2016Bill Hardy, President & CEO, Equitas Health

Since the early days of the AIDS epidemic we have provided compassionate care and advocacy for those most marginalized and at risk in our community. Today, as the death rates associated with the opiate epidemic reach numbers comparable to the height of the AIDS epidemic, we continue to find ways to provide care, give voice to the voiceless, and find new ways to reduce the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases.

I’m pleased to share with you an article on Equitas Health’s Safe Point program, which was featured in yesterday’s Sunday Columbus Dispatch. The feature highlights our work to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C and reduce the number of deaths due to drug overdose through our comprehensive harm reduction program, Safe Point (full Dispatch story below).

Safe Point started in January 2016, in partnership with Columbus Public Health, and now a key part of the Franklin County Opiate Action Plan. It is an evidence-based approach to care called “harm reduction.”  Harm reduction is widely considered the most effective approach to reaching those in the addiction and recovery community because it emphasizes meeting people where they’re at in their substance use journey. Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use, to abstinence; addressing conditions of use along with the use itself. At Safe Point, our harm reduction approach includes access to clean syringes and naloxone; HIV and hepatitis C prevention education; counseling on safer drug use practices and syringe disposal; and referrals to medical care, behavioral health/addiction counseling, and wrap-around services like housing, and treatment centers.

Sharing syringes results in the transmission of HIV and other diseases—especially hepatitis C, which now impacts an estimated 3.5 million Americans.  What makes Safe Point different from the seven other syringe service programs in the state is our program is a “need-based” syringe access program. “Need-based” means we provide our program participants with enough clean equipment so that they don’t have to reuse or share a syringe with anyone.

In the Dispatch feature, you will see that we have distributed 1.5 million syringes to more than 3,000 participants. This averages out to less than 2 syringes per day per person. We know that people who inject drugs often times use more than once a day. While the average cost of a syringe is pennies, the lifetime cost of treating someone living with HIV is approximately $360,000 and the cost of treating a Hepatitis C infection is nearly $100,000.

We’re proud to be a statewide leader in preventing the spread of infectious diseases and responding to the opiate crisis. As you will read in the Columbus Dispatch article, our program is seeing results. Research shows that people are five times more likely to enter treatment when they participate in a syringe access program.

We are also committed to the safety of our community and are working with Columbus Public Health to ensure that our program participants are fully aware of the proper disposal of syringes. Research demonstrates that individuals who participate in access programs are more likely to properly dispose of syringes than individuals who do not.  To that end, we have taken the following steps to address this issue:

  • Providing Safe Point clients with personal syringe disposal containers during each visit.
  • Providing proper syringe disposal education to each Safe Point client during every visit.
  • While the majority of improperly-disposed syringes are not the brand used by Safe Point, both Columbus Public Health and Equitas Health have organized neighborhood clean-up days to specifically aid hardest-hit neighborhoods.
  • Columbus Public Health has increased the number of stand-alone disposal bins located throughout Columbus from 1 to 4 with plans to increase to another 6 boxes by next year.

We will continue to work with our community partners to address this critical issue. Thank you for supporting this essential community program. Together, we are saving lives.