In an effort to combat Ohio's opioid crisis, Cleveland-based Circle Health Services is providing fentanyl test strips to users who require the services of their needle exchange.
Lisa Fair, a program director at Circle Health Services, told
Fox 8 that “most of the drugs, 85-90 percent of the drugs, are laced with fentanyl. So this gives people a chance to use differently, maybe slower, use less, or maybe not use that drug at all.”
As of Tuesday, Circle Health Services had distributed 1,500 of the 15,000 test strips funded by The Cuyahoga County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.
The strips work similarly to a pregnancy test, with users submerging the strip in drug residue. One stripe appearing on the strip indicates a presence of fentanyl and two stripes mean there is none.
Services offered by Circle Health like the fentanyl test strips and the needle exchange are viewed as controversial, especially after the passing of House Bill 92
in 2014, which established syringe exchange programs in Ohio.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), more than half of people who inject drugs reported using a syringe services program in 2015, compared to about one-third of users in 2005.
Needle exchange programs offer users a safe way to combat their addictions and seek support in getting clean while in a difficult stage of their addiction. Some other benefits of needle exchange
programs include, but are not limited to:
- Lower numbers of contaminated needles in a community
- Reduced drug-related behavior
- Reduced sexual-risk behavior
- Increased access to drug treatment referral services
- Increased access to testing and diagnostic services
- Increased access to education about substance abuse
- Increased communication with hard-to-reach populations
- Reduced prevalence of new infections
A 2015 study
showed that after Washington D.C. established a needle exchange program, there was a 70 percent drop in newly diagnosed HIV cases over two years, which amounted to 120 infections avoided. This saved millions of dollars that would have been spent for treatment if those people had become infected.
Fentanyl was involved in 71 percent of all
unintentional overdose deaths in Ohio in 2017, so these test strips are a legitimate life-saver.
“We want people to have a chance to live," Fair said. "If people die from a fentanyl-related overdose then they don’t have another day; you can’t go back."