Columbus Dispatch (02.02.2014)
The Columbus Dispatch reported that the Ohio Senate was considering House Bill (HB) 92, which would enable any local health authority to establish needle-exchange programs to allow intravenous drug users and others to exchange used syringes for clean ones. The bill provides no state funding for needle-exchange programs, which would rely on donated needles. The bill aimed to reduce hepatitis C and HIV transmission through sharing needles.
Portsmouth and Cleveland, Ohio, currently operate syringe exchange programs. Cleveland’s program—initiated to lower HIV incidence—exchanged 230,781 syringes in 2013. Portsmouth initiated needle exchange in March 2011 in response to increased heroin addiction that developed after the county health officials closed down local pain “pill mills.” In 2012, the state identified eight “heroin hotspots” including Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Youngstown, Cleveland, “an area southeast of the I-71 corridor between Columbus and Cincinnati,” northern Athens County, and Portsmouth.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, intravenous drug use was the largest hepatitis C risk factor. Without expressly supporting needle exchanges, Gov. John Kasich favored efforts that would encourage addicts to seek drug treatment programs. Although 34 other states had needle-exchange programs, federal and state public health agencies did not collect comprehensive data linking intravenous drug use and hepatitis C. However, Cleveland, Portsmouth, and other state programs have associated availability of clean needles with lower hepatitis C incidence.
HB 92, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Sears (R-Sylvania) and Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), passed the Ohio House of Representatives with bipartisan support. Sears noted the bill promoted safety for individuals and the community and would reduce side effects of drug use. Lisa Roberts, a nurse at the Portsmouth City Health Department, stated that the city’s program encouraged addicts to have hepatitis C testing and to enter drug treatment.