One year into operating Lucas County’s first needle exchange program, social worker Courtney Stewart sees success in a multitude of ways, numerable and not.
She points to 73 people revived from overdose after Northwest Ohio Syringe Services participants were trained to use the antidote naloxone, and the 64 referred to substance abuse treatment.
“I’m really proud of the connections we’ve made with people who have come in, and the growth people have made... over the last year,” Ms. Stewart said.
Nurse Lisa Hawthorne-Price discusses the services she provides for clients of Northwest Ohio Syringe Services at the mobil exchange located at the Talbot Center in East Toledo. The program distributes free needles, naloxone, and now fentanyl test strips to users of opioids and other drugs. It also provides various health screenings to participants too.
At a time when Ohio’s opioid epidemic shows no signs of waning, the syringe access program — which celebrated its one-year anniversary this month — aims to mitigate health risks of injection drug use, teach overdose prevention, and encourage clients to seek treatment.
The syringe access program, which allows injection drug users to exchange used needles for new ones, also provides a variety of other health screenings and harm reduction tools. In its first year, the program collected more than 10,000 used syringes and distributed nearly 20,000 new ones to 191 participants.
Staff there have identified critical health concerns, including two new hepatitis C infections diagnoses and three referrals to medical care for cases of endocarditis, an infection of the heart’s inner lining that can be a complication of injection drug use.
There are also the harder to quantify successes, Ms. Stewart said, like when a participant one day brings a friend or family member to learn more about the program.
“It’s a powerful moment when one person you’ve been seeing over the last couple months comes in with four new people,” she said.
The program, operated by the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, is funded by the county’s mental health and recovery services board and the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio Hospital.
Jamie Dowling is the assistant director of the Ryan White Program at UTMC, which provides HIV care and services and partly funds the syringe exchange.
“Every needle turned in and every new one replacing it, “is a chance for somebody to stay HIV negative or hepatitis C negative,” she said.
Ms. Dowling said program coordinators hit the ground running with a comprehensive roster of available services.
“It’s great to see how many resources and how many different referral avenues could come out of a needle exchange site,” she said, noting that offerings go beyond more traditional HIV and hepatitis C testing to include screenings for human trafficking and food insecurity.
Looking forward, Ms. Stewart said she would like to see a third location to serve overdose-heavy 43612 and 43613 ZIP Codes in addition to current sites in East Toledo and the UpTown neighborhood.
Friday marks International Overdose Awareness Day. A “Chalk the Walk” event will take place beginning at 9 a.m. at Talbot Clinical Services, 732 Main St. Participants are encouraged to use sidewalk chalk to write messages or create public art related to the opioid epidemic. A moment of silence to remember those who died from overdose will be held at 11 a.m.
NOSS runs 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1201 Madison Ave., and Thursdays at the Talbot Center, 732 Main St.
More information about the syringe access program is available by phoning 419-213-2655.
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