Fighting the opioid crisis by erasing a stigma

. March 10, 2020.
opioid-crisis

Northwest Ohio Syringe Services, saving lives and preventing overdoses

A few years ago, several local organizations concerned about the opioid crisis— including the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, the Mental Health Recovery Services Board of Lucas County, and the University of Toledo Medical Center Ryan White Program— wanted to fight the growing number of overdoses in Northwest Ohio. They decided on a bold approach: needle exchange program to allow users to drop off used needles for safe disposal while picking up new needles that are far less likely to spread infectious diseases.

But Northwest Ohio Syringe Services, or NOSS, is much more than that. Through a commitment to the principles of harm reduction, NOSS features a full suite of services— including fentanyl test strips and Narcan spray kit distribution— to reduce the number of overdoses in Lucas County.

And the approach of NOSS seems to be working. Since opening on August 1, 2017, individuals who obtained Narcan kits from NOSS have reported over 338 cases of overdose reversals, while a report by the Toledo Blade revealed that overdose statistics have noticeably dropped in the areas surrounding the organization’s clinics.

More than one path to recovery

NOSS works alongside partners in the Lucas County Opiate Coalition to deliver harm reduction— a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. While other partners within the coalition work to reduce the supply of and demand for opiates, NOSS works to keep users alive and provide them with a safe place to seek help, free of judgment and stigma.

Courtney Stewart, a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) with the NOSS program, stresses that harm reduction is important because coercive approaches are often ineffective. “Harm reduction creates opportunity for change through acceptance and partnership.” Instead of treating drug use as a crime, harm reduction programs like NOSS see drug use as a matter of public health. “Our goal is to help people who inject drugs to stay alive and healthy. A person does not have a chance at recovery after a fatal overdose.”

Meeting people where they are

NOSS provides services anonymously at no cost, without judgment or appointments. Services include the provision of new needles and using supplies, safer injection education, injection site reviews, rapid HIV and Hepatitis C testing, Hepatitis A immunization, pregnancy testing, Narcan kits and training, fentanyl test strips, biohazard containers, safer sex supplies and treatment referrals.

It’s not just about overdoses. By providing access to safe needles, NOSS is able to reduce the risk of infections and prevent the outbreak of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. And the benefits of these services reach beyond those who visit NOSS; all supplies are available for secondary distribution. In 2019, NOSS participants invested in the health and well-being of their community by distributing to others 878 times.

Northwest Ohio Syringe Services currently operates at three locations around town throughout the week: on Tuesdays at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (1201 Madison Street) between 1pm and 3:45pm, on Wednesdays at the First Unitarian Church of Toledo (3205 Glendale) between 10am and 12:45pm, and on Thursdays at Talbot Clinical Services (732 Main Street) between 1pm and 3:45pm.
For more info, call 419-213-2655 or visit
lucascountyhealth.com/syringe-services.

You can also follow Northwest Ohio Syringe Services on Facebook or Twitter by searching for NOSS/Harm Reduction.