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Local community council votes down needle exchange

LOWER PRICE HILL, Ohio (Angenette Levy) - Residents and the community council voted down the possibility of a mobile needle exchange program visiting the neighborhood.

13 residents voted against it, four voted for it and five abstained. All four members of the neighborhood's community council voted against the program.

At times a couple of residents and the community council president raised their voices when discussing their opposition to the program. ""Contrary to unreliable claims, there is not a heroin epidemic in in Lower Price Hill. Local addicts, yes. Epidemic, no," said community council President Jack Degano.

Those who work for the Cincinnati Needle Exchange said they wanted to bring their RV into the neighborhood to help addicts and keep dirty needles from being tossed into the street or in playgrounds where they are a hazard. The RV allows addicts to exchange a dirty needle for a clean one, offers testing for Hepatitis C, HIV and pregnancy and offers information about treatment for drug addiction. "We're going to have multiple sites. We want to be down here because we want to be part of the community. I will do a sweep of the neighborhood to keep the syringes off the ground," said Libby Harrison, a program employee.

Some residents at the meeting want the RV to visit Lower Price Hill. "This is a conduit for people who have drug addiction issues to get into treatment," said Elaine Wolter, a former community council member and retired nurse.

But others said they believe it would only enable addicts and increase crime, a claim program coordinators dispute. "To me heroin is so dangerous it's almost like giving them an empty gun and telling them to go get some bullets. You know what I'm saying," said Aaron Head, a recovering heroin addict. Head said God has aided him in his recovery.

Needle exchange program coordinators were disappointed by the vote. "I think there are people who were not here who have supported the project and us coming into town but we will wait. We will wait and see what we can do," said Ann Barnum of Interact for Health, which funds the needle exchange. Barnum said her group has had a conversation with a church in Mt. Auburn about operating in that community but no decision has been made.

The needle exchange operated in Springdale for a month with city council approval. But city council members changed their minds about the program after some community members complained.

The Cincinnati city solicitor's office is reviewing whether city council approval is necessary for the program to operate in Cincinnati. Barnum said the city's health department declared a heroin emergency in 2012 which allows them to operate.
Mayor John Cranley has not said whether he supports the program.

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