Butler County is adding another location where drug addicts can get help and exchange needles to help prevent the spread of dangerous diseases.
The same van that travels Middletown neighborhoods will be coming to a still-to-be-determined location further south in the county, according to Butler County Health Commissioner Jenny Bailer.
“I prefer that it be called the blood borne pathogen prevention program instead of a needle exchange per se,” Bailer said. “Because that gives the wrong impression about what goes on in the van. While it is true needles can be exchanged in the van there are lots of other services they provide.”
One of those services is referrals to substance abuse and medicine assisted treatment for addicts. She said the professionals manning the van talk to the clients to see if they are ready to go into treatment and can also refer them to other social services they might need.
She said testing of HIV and hepatitis C — two diseases that have spread swiftly with the heroin epidemic — is also offered.
There has been a 300 percent increase in hepatitis C infections since 2002 in Butler County and a 46 percent increase in HIV positive diagnoses since 2013 in the county, according to Bailer.
It takes $80,000 a year for a 12-week hepatitis C treatment and $380,000 over a lifetime for HIV, according to Bailer.
“People using these programs are five times more likely to reduce or stop injecting which emphasizes the client education and referral to addiction treatment component of a syringe exchange program.”
Middletown partnered with the Cincinnati Exchange Project several years ago, and its van offers one-to-one needle exchanges and a host of other services once a week in the city.
The Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services board (MHARS) is funding the expanded program with $50,000 as part of its $3.6 million Opiate Business Plan. Executive Director Scott Rasmus said the business plan calls for a third location to come on line in the future.
“In 2017, 338 unique Butler County residents were served by the Middletown Needle Exchange Project with almost 42,000 needles exchanged, 438 Narcan kits distributed, and 42 tests performed for Hepatitis C and/or HIV,” Rasmus said. “If we can protect even one child or adult from an accidental needle stick in an area park, the cost of this program would be well worth it.”