State officials are hesitating to approve federal funds for needle exchanges — but Wellington may end up not requiring those dollars at all.
The money was expected to contribute to an exchange that could open in the village as early as August. Instead, police chief Tim Barfield said private donations made through the Nord Family Foundation are now covering all costs.
Harm Reduction Ohio, an exchange advocacy group, reported June 25 that the Ohio Department of Health is stopping municipalities from receiving funds by choosing to not send necessary paperwork to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The group’s president, Dennis Cauchon, is a Granville resident who previously worked for 27 years as a writer and editor for USA Today. He published an article on his organization’s website painting the funding delays as a “bureaucratic tactic.”
The delay is only temporary and is meant to give officials time to devise a better statewide plan, according to Lorain County Public Health commissioner Dave Covell.
In an email to Barfield, Covell characterized Cauchon as a lobbyist who wants Ohio Gov. John Kasich to apply through the CDC for statewide funding — something Covell is already pursuing.
ODH communications director Russ Kennedy said officials are trying to ensure redirecting federal funds toward needle exchanges doesn’t interfere with other efforts to cut down on the spread of HIV.
“We are actively reviewing a staff proposal to seek authorization from the CDC to use federal HIV funding administered by the Ohio Department of Health to support allowable expenses of syringe service programs,” he said. “We expect to make a decision soon.”
Barfield said the Wellington needle exchange is still on track — with or without federal funds — to open as scheduled and remain adequately funded for the foreseeable future.
He and Covell announced the exchange, Lorain County’s first, in May during a town hall event at the Patricia Lindley Center discussing opioid overdoses and their impact on families.
“The donations through (the Nord Family Foundation) are giving us what we need,” Barfield said. “We could end up seeking money a couple of years down the line, but currently the plan is to see if we can be successful with private funds.”
More than 200 needle exchange programs are in operation across 33 states. After the first U.S. exchange opened in 1988, Congress placed a moratorium on federal funds going toward the programs.
That decision was modified in 2016, making funds available for exchanges but not to purchase injection materials.
According to the World Health Organization, exchange programs are effective in stemming rates of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C and are cost effective when compared to the price of treating the unfettered spread of those diseases.
Lorain County experienced a 522 percent increase in diagnoses of hepatitis C between 2012 and 2016 and the number of new cases found in the first half of 2017 was equal to 90 percent of all cases documented the previous year.
Overdose deaths have increased by 170 percent in Lorain County over the past decade.
In 2014, half of the county’s fatal overdoses were related to heroin use. By 2016, synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanyl were the catalyst in the same percentage of deaths.
From 2012 to 2016, demand for clean needles in the area increased by 300 percent, according to the CDC.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.