Toledo service closed today, opens Thursday, then closed indefinitely
Other syringe program limiting contact, taking temperatures
The Northwest Ohio Syringe Service (NOSS) program in Toledo was closed today (Wednesday) and will close for at least the rest of the month after a final clinic on Thursday. It is the first Ohio syringe program to close because of the threat of COVID-19.
The program, run by Toledo-Lucas County Public Health, will hold one more clinic on Thursday, from 1-3:45 p.m. at Talbot Clinical Services at 732 Main Street in Toledo, says Courtney Stewart, a social worker who helps run the service.
“We are unsure when the health department will allow us to return to service. After tomorrow we will remain closed at least through the end of the month,” Stewart said.
Syringe service programs, sometimes called “needle exchanges,” are an important lifeline to people who use drugs. The programs supply sterile needles to prevent the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases, such as the coronavirus.
Twenty-one of Ohio’s 88 counties have syringe programs, a number that has expanded dramatically in the last three years as the state has sought to reduce overdose deaths and other harms suffered by people who use drugs.
Toledo-Lucas Public Health is trying to offset the loss of the services by giving clients enough supplies to last them while the service is closed
“In the last two days of our clinics, we are giving a months worth of supplies,” said Cathy Nearhood, the program’s public health nurse. “During clinic we are giving out supplies carryout style to limit the number of participates at the clinic site. We also are giving out increments of a box of 100 syringes giving out as many as 500 syringes instead of a custom number and made up work kits in brown bags to grab to limit time the participant spends in the clinic.”
The department also will watch overdoses to so if a change occurs that needs a public health response, she said.
Working to stay open
Elsewhere in Ohio, syringe programs report adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic threat but being able to remain open — at least for now. (A list of Ohio’s syringe programs is available at our website, and Harm Reduction Ohio’s staff is working to stay in touch and report any closings or changes.)
“It’s unfortunate that Toledo’s program is closing. It’s one of the best designed in Ohio,” said Dennis Cauchon, president of Harm Reduction Ohio. “I hope it reopens as soon as possible and the health department finds a way to get sterile syringes to this vulnerable population.”
Cauchon suggested that the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department run an online syringe program, so clients can order online and get sterile syringes by mail.
Harm Reduction Ohio is operating an online naloxone program that, as part of the state’s official coronavirus response plan, is supplying Narcan through the mail to people who need it. Harm Reduction Ohio fulfilled 45 naloxone requests made Monday.
How other Ohio syringe programs are coping:
Columbus: Elizabeth Onzima, outreach coordinator for SafePoint syringe program, said that operations have been adjusted, but programs are not shutting down, although that is subject to change at any moment. “We are only allowing three people in the lobby at a time, and we’re streamlining services in minimize contact between people,” she said.
Canton: “We are staying open this week with some big modifications. It is going to be streamlined with prepackaged bags and such, but hopefully it will work out alright. We are not sure what it looks like moving forward as our clinics are currently on a week-by-week basis,” says David McCartney of Canton Public Health’s nursing division.
Zanesville: “We are screening every individual who enters the building for symptoms, taking temperatures and frequently sanitizing surfaces,” said Tiffany McFee of the Muskingum County Board of Health. “The situation is constantly changing, so there’s really no way to predict if or when closures will take place.”
Portsmouth: “At this point ,we are in the process of making some contingency plans because our biggest concern is being forced to stop services for folks,” said Abby Spears of the Portsmouth Health Department in Scioto County. “We’re looking at ways to make sure people get what they need.”
Greene County (Xenia): “Numbers were down last week even after encouraging people to come in because we didn’t know if we would be open this week,” ” reported Melody Kingsley, health educator at Greene County Public Health. “We are still open this week so far.”
Ohio readers, if you have anything to add on the operation of Ohio’s syringe programs during these chaotic times, please let us know: email@example.com.
— Shae Dalrymple, communications director, Harm Reduction Ohio