WELLINGTON — Lorain County’s first needle exchange program will open in Wellington, according to a surprise announcement Thursday at the Village Safety Services town hall meeting.
The clinic provides a new approach to the opioid crisis by providing clean needles and other services to drug users.
Mayor Hans Schneider said clients can come in, receive counseling and HIV testing and get clean needles. Schneider said this has been an important decision that Wellington and the Local Initiative Network Compassion — an organization fighting the opioid epidemic — have put a lot of thought into.
“We are taking measures that we believe will be successful in combating this crisis,” he said.
Wellington and LINC have worked with Lorain County Public Health to discuss the clinic and looked at a needle exchange clinic in Cuyahoga County, Circle Health Services, as an example.
Lorain County Health Commissioner Dave Covell said the county is a prime candidate for a needle exchange clinic. Covell said the county is one of the most affected in the state by the crisis according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It really does allow us to be a good target to say, ‘If you did needle exchange, you could avoid having the explosion of these problems,’” he said.
In a letter sent to Covell, the CDC found data showing a 170 percent increase of overdose deaths in the past 10 years, nearly half related to heroin. The CDC also found a greater demand for clean needles by 300 percent from 2012 to 2016.
Covell said the clinic could help reduce the spread of diseases. In a letter sent to Covell, the CDC shared data suggesting the county is vulnerable to a greater spread of diseases that can be passed through needles, such as HIV and hepatitis. The CDC also found a 522 percent increase in hepatitis C diagnoses between 2012 and 2016 in the county.
“It’s about the medical care they need, it’s about getting the access to an opportunity to quit and getting out of the lifestyle, and that’s what this is really about,” he said. “It’s about multiple different services and bringing all in one location.”
Wellington Police Chief Tim Barfield also supported the idea because of the needles he and his officers have seen on the streets. Barfield said the county has done well in the past two years in setting up LINC to help battle the opioid crisis.
LINC was formed in 2016 by Wellington firefighters and police officers, who contacted to schools and churches to form a united effort to address opioid abuse. LINC approaches addiction with three steps: Create access points for people seeking help, get those who seek help into treatment and transform people through treatment. The organization said it has saved 57 people from opioid use.
Schneider said the details are being finalized, but he hopes the clinic will begin operating by summer. While he understands it may not be something everyone will agree with, Schneider said hopes people give it a chance.
“We’ve expected pushback, but if you look at the statistics of how many die a day from opioids, I think you have to start thinking outside the box,” he said.