Clean needle exchange program for heroin addicts

TOLEDO, Ohio (13abc Action News) - A 35-year-old man walks into St. Paul's United Methodist Church on Madison Avenue in downtown Toledo.

Drug Enforcement Administration / MGN

He admits he's been a heroin addict for at least 20 years. Pointing to various needle marks on his arms barely hidden by a number of different tattoos, he admits he's overdosed twice in the past couple of months.

Today he's here to take part in the clean needle exchange program run by the Toledo Lucas County Health Department and funded by UTMC and the Lucas County Board of Mental Health.

"You can give yourself diseases from blood that stays on the needle, and I don't want anyone else to get one or both of the communicable diseases I have," he says.

Toledo is the last major Ohio city to get a clean needle exchange program, and it it's been up and running at both St. Paul's in downtown and the Talbot Center in East Toledo for the past two months.

So far around 14 addicts have taken part in the new program where they can exchange dirty needles for clean ones.

Admittedly controversial, the program director Jerry Kerr is well versed in the heated debate. "We are at the point where people are ready to try just about anything to help control the heroin epidemic," says Herr.

When asked whether the program is simply enabling addicts to continue their drug abuse he replies "Folks who are IV drug users will do their drugs even if it means using the same syringe for ever and ever. We use the opportunity to do HIV testing, Hepatitis C testing and talk with folks when they're ready about whether they'd like to go into treatment."