Report on Ohio’s newest syringe program

Stigma was a challenge that was overcome

By Sydney Tavens
Capstone Fellow, Ohio State University, College of Public Health ’22

Ohio’s newest syringe program is located in Findlay and called the Bloodborne Infectious Disease Prevention Program. The program, run by Hancock County Public Health, opened in July 2020 and is now run today by leaders Gary Bright and Jamie Decker. Gary Bright, the Injury Prevention Coordinator at Hancock County Public Health, is a Licensed Social Worker with a Master of Public Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration and Psychology. Today, Gary is the Injury Prevention Coordinator at Hancock Public Health.

Jamie Decker

Jamie Decker, the health department’s Harm Reduction Coordinator/Peer Support Specialist, struggled with drugs in the past and is now a certified peer supporter. Jamie, who is a member of Harm Reduction Ohio’s Board of Directors, previously worked in inpatient recovery and recovery centers where he learned firsthand about the issues surrounding drug use within treatment centers. Now, abstinent from drug use, Jamie understands the importance of giving users the resources and help they need to make informed, self-directed decisions for themselves about improving their health and lives.

Today, both Gary and Jamie are strong advocates for harm reduction and syringe programs. Jamie says syringe programs serve as a “safe place for people who don’t have a safe place.” In the surveys conducted at their syringe program, they have found that one of the biggest hardships people who use drugs face is feeling ostracized from their peers in the community.

Challenge of stigma 

Gary Bright

Gary and Jamie discussed the challenges they have faced while launching their new syringe program. They shared how stigma against people who use drugs made it challenging to start the program. (Stigma is defined as discrimination against a person based on the social characteristics that may distinguish them from others in the community.)

Stigma is not a unique barrier to this program: it is woven into the public perception of drug users, and every harm reduction initiative has to mount this hurdle. Gary and Jamie recounted the ways in which they tackled the challenge stigma posed to their initiative.

Gary and Jamie both stressed the importance of involving the local community when developing a syringe program. Before starting their program, they understood the value of addressing their community’s beliefs about drug use and doubts about harm reduction.

Jamie discussed how stigma continued to affect the syringe program even after its debut. “We didn’t see our first person until October 2020” — four months after it opened, Jamie recalled. It wasn’t until word had spread among people in active use that the syringe program was a safe place to get services and supplies that people began to trust the program. Today Jamie and Gary see multiple people each week.

To combat stigma among local authorities, Gary says it’s communicate early with local law enforcement about the syringe program, its purpose and who will be using it.

Following CDC best practices

Program details

Gary and Jamie designed their syringe program to meet the diverse needs of people who use drugs in the community. The Bloodborne Infectious Disease Prevention Program is classified as an access program, not a syringe or needle exchange. This follows the best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A syringe access program allows for supplies such as naloxone and syringes to be distributed as needed, rather than requiring old, used needles be provided in exchange for new, sterile needles.

The Bloodborne Infectious Disease Prevention Program offers other life-saving services, too, including:

  • HIV and Hepatitis C testing, Narcan (naloxone) distribution.
  • peer support.
  • fentanyl test strips.
  • immunizations.

Research has shown that the prevention of Hepatitis C among people who inject drugs is “most effective when needle or syringe exchange programs are combined with other prevention services such as behavior-change counseling and addiction treatment services” (CDC, 2016). In this way, Hancock County’s syringe program goes above and beyond when providing for drug users.

Sydney Tavens is an Ohio State University student working at Harm Reduction Ohio this summer. She will receive a Bachelor’s Degree from the OSU College of Public Health in Public Health in 2022 and a Master’s Degree in 2023.

List of Ohio Syringe Programs

If you are interested in finding a syringe program in your area ,Harm Reduction Ohio has compiled a list of all syringe programs in Ohio. 

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