Concerns remain about discarded needles; black market trade from needle access program

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Since the city’s needle access program began in 2016, more than 1.9 million clean needles have been distributed to intravenous drug users in the Columbus area.

The goal - to curb the spread of disease and get people into treatment.

In addition to the needles, more than 1900 drug users have requested Naloxone from the program – up from 811 requests in 2016.

The number of people also self-reporting as having Hepatitis C has also increased -- from 523 in 2016 to 1193 reported cases in 2017. The same was true for those reporting to have HIV – up from 104 in 2016 to 152 in 2017.

Those were just some the figures provided to the Columbus Board of Health during a meeting Tuesday.

Melissa Green, the harm reduction program manager for Columbus Public Health, did not touch on two issues first exposed by 10 investigates – needles being improperly discarded across the city or the fact that drug users say the program has been abused and that people are trading the clean needles for money or drugs.

Columbus Police tell 10 Investigates that they have seen an increase in needles at drug bust locations but cannot verify with certainty where those clean needles are coming from.

“When clients come in every time they have to verbally make an agreement that the (syringes) are going to be used by them by them, intended for their own personal use and not given away to anybody else or sold or exchanged for any goods or services – that’s also in the clients rights and responsibilities of the program. And if it is brought to our attention that they are abusing that side of the program, they will not be allowed to come back,” Melissa Green told 10 Investigates.

Green could not say how many people had been kicked out of the program.

She also told the board that 83 percent of the clients surveyed by Safepoint, which operates the needle access program in Columbus, reported that they knew how to properly dispose of their needles after attending the program.

But it is not clear how many drug users were surveyed. Green said it was a “random sample.”

10 Investigates first exposed these problems in November and have pressed officials on if any changes have been made.

Green says the department is considering adding additional drop-off bins for discarded needles – as many as 10 by next year.