For 20 years, Circle Health (formerly known as the Free Clinic) exchanged new needles for used ones with drug users in Cleveland and surrounding areas.

The program focuses on reducing the incidence of HIV and Hepatitis C infection in high risk populations by providing injection drug users with clean supplies and education to slow the spread of blood borne disease. All needles are exchanged on a one-for-one basis so clients must have a used needle in order to receive one.

Every day you can find the van parked at 3305 West 25th Street at HUMADAOP from 9am until 3pm (lunch break 12-1) and syringes can also be exchanged on site at Circle Health Services Monday through Thursday between 11:00am – 7:00pm and Fridays between 10:00am – 5:00pm.

Since they’ve expanded the program they now exchange on average 50 thousand needles a month.

Now experts are pointing to statistics to show the program is working.

Melissa Federman directs the AIDS Funding Collaborative at the Center for Community Solutions. It’s a century old think tank for health and human services and partners with many local agencies.

The new data shows an increase in HIV infections associated with injection drug use. That’s not surprising since Ohio is still in the midst of an opiate epidemic. But the stats show something surprising in Cuyahoga County.

“Our rates are actually going down over the last couple of years so it's striking to see what a program like the syringe exchange from a protective factor with HIV,” Federman said.

HIV Infections Attributed to Injection Drug Use in Cuyahoga County, 2012-2016

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

IDU Associated HIV Infections, Cuyahoga

16

8

6

12

10

7

Rate of New IDU Associated Infections (%), Cuyahoga

7.62%

3.45%

2.86%

5.83%

5.15%

4.43%

Total New HIV Infections, Cuyahoga

210

232

210

206

194

158

IDU Associated HIV Infections, Ohio

52

58

49

63

92

121

Rate of New IDU Associated Infections (%), Ohio

5.06%

5.50%

5.13%

6.72%

9.37%

11.92%

Total New HIV Infections, Ohio

1028

1054

955

937

982

1015

Syringe exchange became legal in Ohio in 2015 and now there are about a dozen programs operating in the state. The Circle Health program is a model for most of them. But the programs does more than provide clean needles, it also provides Naloxone kits for overdose, condoms, fentanyl testing strips so drug users can test their drugs to see if it’s been laced with deadly fentanyl but perhaps most importantly it provides a connection to help those ready to quit get into a recovery program.

More about Circle Health Services:

The Centers for Families and Children and Circle Health Services (formerly the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland) together are leading the way in providing integrated health care, early childhood education and workforce development services in Ohio. As affiliated organizations, they operate under a shared leadership structure as one, unified front focusing on a common goal: providing life-changing solutions to help individuals and families lead healthier and more successful lives. The innovative model coordinates health and wellness services, including primary care for children and adults, behavioral health care, addiction services, HIV prevention and treatment and in-house pharmacy with family support programs, including preschool, home visiting, job training and placement. This approach helps individuals and families better address the complex challenges they face to improve their quality of life. This work stabilizes families which ultimately builds a stronger community. For more information, visit www.thecentershio.org and www.circlehealthservices.org