GREENVILLE – A week after Family Health announced its upcoming XChange program, health and government officials are hoping to quell concerns among county residents – many who have voiced doubt about the needle exchange program on social media.
Family Health Executive Director Jean Young said she’s been fielding questions since last week’s announcement and says she’s aware of comments being shared on social media.
“I’ve been very pleased with the majority of the answers and replies people have given to others in the community. We want to be proactive in helping the community. We are moving forward,” Young said, with XChange.
XChange will go into effect next month, when Family Health in Greenville will open its dental clinic on the 2nd and 4th Friday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for people to drop off used syringes in exchange for clean ones.
The dental clinic is closed Fridays, which allows for separate parking and entry for those who wish to participate in XChange.
Young said the number of clean needles each person will receive will be determined on an individual basis, however, she did say it’s “not going to be a huge number” for one person.
“The overall goal,” Young said “is to help get these people clean.”
Opportunities for additional health screenings and treatment will be encouraged to XChange participants.
To purchase clean, one-time use needles, Family Health is the recipient of a $100,000 grant from Cardinal Health Foundation in Columbus. In June, the foundation announced a donation of $3 million to communities to fight the opioid epidemic in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.
“No taxpayer dollars are being used,” Young said, to fund XChange.
Young also pointed out state legislation authorizing Ohio’s Board of Health to establish infectious disease prevention programs, specifically for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.
Family Health and the Darke County Board of Health are working together to establish XChange in order to curb blood-borne diseases.
According to Dr. Terrance Holman, Darke County Health Commissioner, the county has seen “a slow uptick” of Hepatitis C cases.
Holman also said Shelby County was seeing more Hepatitis C cases, with nearby counties in Indiana experiencing a rise in the number of HIV diagnoses.
“When you share needles, you stand the chance of spreading disease. If people use clean needles, you won’t have that opportunity. We need to do this,” Holman said. “We’re in favor of passing out clean needles from the aspect of prevention. We’re not supporting drug use at all.”
Besides Hepatitis and HIV, Holman said, there are other diseases people can contract from needle sharing, which can affect kidney and heart health.
Sharing needles, he continued, isn’t the only way to become infected. Citing “inadvertent consequences,” Holman said workers picking up trash bags containing needles, individuals who find used needles in the park, on sidewalk or in the street, even law enforcement officers dealing with drug users – all stand the chance of a needle stick.
“It’s a safety aspect for the general public,” Holman said.
Greenville Police Chief Steve Strick said this week he “has no problem” with the XChange program.
“It’s more of a health issue,” he said. “Law enforcement can’t solve the problem by itself.”
Concerns that people will walk out of Family Health’s clinic and immediately use drugs have been raised.
Strick, along with Young, say those participating in XChange must follow the rules or be faced consequences.
There is an immunity area within 1,000 feet of Family Health on XChange days – but only for the syringes. Those who are in possession of drugs within that area may be charged and banned from XChange.
“If they break the rules, they’re out of the program,” Strick said, also pointing out that the Family Health facility lies in the jurisdiction of the Darke County Sheriff’s Office, which also is is favor of XChange.
Properties across the street from the health facility are within the Greenville Police Department’s coverage.
Greenville Steve Willman also said he’s in favor of XChange and points out healthcare costs – not only to the general public, but also down the road for drug addicts.
“So, yes, I’m in favor,” Willlman said.
Family Health will conduct a public open house meeting about XChange from 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25. Health and law enforcement officials will be on hand to answer questions and explain how the XChange program will work.
PHOTO CAPTION: Greenville’s Family Health Dental Clinic, which is closed Fridays, will be home to XChange on the 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month. (Gaylen Blosser photo)