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U.S. News

Ohio: Advocates See Cleveland's Needle Swap as State Model

October 12, 2010

When Cleveland first allowed needle-exchange programs in 1995, more than 17 percent of the community's HIV infections were associated with intravenous drug use. The proportion was 3.4 percent last year, according to the Cleveland Department of Public Health.

The Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland operates the state's only legal syringe-exchange program. As of July, it had 1,158 clients.

"It's one of those public health interventions I really believe to be a no-brainer," Health Department Director Matt Carroll said.

In seeking to replicate Cleveland's success, community organizers from Columbus and Cincinnati are grappling with several issues. One is Ohio law that allows communities to offer needle-exchange programs only if a city's health department sanctions the action with an emergency order. Another hurdle is that state law prohibits the possession of syringes by drug addicts or the distribution of syringes to drug addicts.

Other health officials say needle-exchange programs help avoid public expenditures for HIV care. The AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland estimates the undiscounted lifetime cost of caring for an HIV patient to be $618,900; a sterile syringe costs less than a dollar.

"The health impact and costs that we incur as a result of HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases transmitted through the use of shared or dirty needles is enormous," said Martin Flask, director of public safety for Cleveland.

Flask, who was a police commander when Cleveland's program started, said fears that needle-exchange programs would increase crime are unfounded.

"I don't have any evidence to suggest any correlation at all between the needle-exchange program and crime," Flask said.

The Free Clinic is funded by the George Gund Foundation and the AIDS Funding Collaborative. Clinic officials are investigating the possibility of federal funding to support the program, an option made possible in December 2009 when President Barack Obama signed legislation ending a two-decades-old ban on using federal money for syringe-exchange programs.

Back to other news for October 2010

Adapted from:
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH)
09.20.2010; Emmanuel Romero

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
More on Ohio Needle Exchange Programs

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