Center plans to expand needle-exchange program

The program helps reduce the spread of infectious diseases among drug users.

Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County’s first needle-exchange program distributed nearly 22,000 clean syringes in its inaugural year and plans to expand to cut down on the spread of dangerous diseases among intravenous drug users.

The CarePoint syringe services program in east Dayton served 364 new clients in its first year and plans to open a second location in the west side of the city this fall. The program also is looking into acquiring a needle-exchange mobile unit.

Drug users are at a high risk of exposure to a variety of blood-borne infections, and more than half of CarePoint’s clients who were screened for Hepatitis C tested positive.

The lifetime health care costs of treating Hepatitis or HIV can be tens of thousands of dollars or much more, and drug addiction also comes with some significant community costs tied to law enforcement, crime, lost productivity and utilization of social service programs.

The needle-exchange clinics provide an opportunity for health professionals to interact with drug users and encourage them to seek treatment and other kinds of help, according to officials with Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County, which runs the program.

“Our job is to provide comprehensive services and meet people where they’re at,” said Andrea Young, supervisor of the HIV/AIDS program at Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County.

Critics, however, claim that needle-exchange clinics encourage illegal drug use.

Last year, Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County launched a new syringe services program at the Life Enrichment Center at 425 N. Findlay St. in Dayton.

Between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Fridays, clients can trade in their used drug needles and other equipment for clean and sterile instruments.

In its first year of operation that ended in late May, the program had 1,813 encounters with clients and exchanged about 21,963 syringes.

The program, which cost $50,000 in 2015, served 364 new clients, with about two-thirds becoming repeat customers. The program also distributed more than 8,500 condoms.

CarePoint has identified a second location it would like to establish in west Dayton that would be open on a different day of the week.

“By expanding to another location, we will be able to reach more people in the community who need it,” said Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for public health.

CarePoint seeks to prevent the spread of infectious diseases that can occur when drug users share needles and other preparation equipment that has been exposed to infected blood, said Young.

Some of the most common infectious diseases include Hepatitis B and C and HIV.

“The death rates among certain groups of young people have increased due to the epidemic of IV heroin use,” said Jeffrey Weinstein, an infectious disease specialist and chief quality officer for Kettering and Sycamore medical centers.

CarePoint clients on average have shared needles and syringes with other people on 18 or more occasions, according to the results of a confidential questionnaire distributed by the organization.

Clients also indicated they regularly share drug-use equipment that can be contaminated with infected blood.

CarePoint screened 21 clients for Hepatitis C, and about half tested positive. About 5 percent of clients tested positive for Hepatitis B and 0.3 percent tested positive for HIV.

CarePoint uses the needle-exchange program as a point of contact with drug addicts to see if they want to pursue treatment for drugs, mental illness and other problems, Young said.

At each visit, clients are offered referrals for addiction services, medical care and on-site medical testing and Medicaid enrollment assistance.

In its first year, CarePoint provided 81 drug treatment referrals and more than 35 referrals for medical and mental health services.

About 93 percent of CarePoint’s clients were white, and a little more than half were men, according to survey data.

The youngest client was 19, while the oldest was 70. Nearly two-thirds were unemployed. Nearly the same share of clients were single.

Some IV drug users are high functioning and have jobs and are able to hide their drug habits from friends, coworkers, neighbors and loved ones, said said Alexandra Carpenter, manager at Atrium Medical Center’s Level III Trauma Program in Middletown.

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