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Needle exchange looks to roll into other neighborhoods

CINCINNATI (Angenette Levy) -- The operators of a needle exchange program want to branch out into neighborhoods in Cincinnati, specifically Lower Price Hill, but some community council members have said the program is not welcome there.

"There are advocates who are portraying an epidemic of heroin in Lower Price Hill. That is not true," said Eileen Gallagher, secretary of the Lower Price Hill Community Council.

Gallagher admits there are heroin addicts who live in the neighborhood. But, she said there are already services in place to help them.
"The program is not a service to addicts. And we wonder perhaps if it merely aids and abets the addictions of suffering people," Gallagher added.

But the operators of the Cincinnati Needle Exchange dispute Gallagher's claims. They believe Lower Price Hill has a problem with heroin. Ann Barnum of Interact for Health, which funds the needle exchange program, says it gets dirty needles off the streets, keeps addicts healthy until they're ready for treatment and stops the spread of diseases.

"This is a public health problem, not a political problem," Barnum said.

She also said the program does not enable addicts.

"We want to keep people alive long enough for them to get into treatment. We know from research that needle exchanges help people get into treatment," Barnum said.

The Cincinnati Board of Health voted to declare a heroin emergency in Cincinnati a couple of years ago. Health Dept. spokesperson Rocky Merz said Tuesday the Board of Health does support the need for a needle exchange program.

The program was operating out of an RV in Springdale and had the support of the health department and city council in that community. But, the city council nixed the program last month after some residents complained. Barnum said the program was helping people.
Addicts who register with the program can get free testing for HIV, Hepatitis C and pregnancy. A doctor supervises the operation and can write a prescription for a drug that reverses a heroin overdose. 

Donna Jones has lived in Lower Price Hill for more than 30 years. She lives next to a playground and said has found dirty needles in the area where children play. One of her daughters used heroin but is now sober while another daughter who was pregnant stepped on a dirty needle a few years ago. Jones supports the needle exchange visiting Lower Price Hill.

"It definitely is a problem in Lower Price Hill," Jones said as she spoke about the heroin problem in the neighborhood. "Actually, I feel like that it's destroyed our community. I don't feel there's family down here that hasn't been touched by heroin."

Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell supports the needle exchange but says neighborhood support is essential.

"If you can stop or minimize the spread of Hepatitis and HIV, why wouldn't you want to do that? I don't think the needle exchange program contributes to heroin use in any way at all. I think it just makes it safer," Blackwell said Tuesday night. He added, "I think the needle exchange program has to be respectful of the community and their desires and not be where they're clearly not wanted."

Meanwhile, Eileen Gallagher said there there's little that could change her mind about the needle exchange visiting Lower Price Hill. Her husband, Community Council President Jack Degano, and other council members have sent a letter to Mayor John Cranley and city council members saying the oppose the program.
"There is no place here suitable," Gallagher said.

Ann Barnum said the operators of the needle exchange will continue to reach out to community council members to talk with them about the benefits of the program. Barnum and others have said there are residents who want the program in Lower Price Hill. Barnum also said the program is in discussions with a pastor at a church in Mt. Auburn about approaching members of that community.

Local 12 News contacted Mayor John Cranley's office for a comment on the program Tuesday. A spokesperson did not return a call seeking comment.

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