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Opioid epidemic has some asking for Licking County syringe exchange program

Some in Licking County are pushing for a syringe exchange program. (WSYX/WTTE){p}{/p}
Some in Licking County are pushing for a syringe exchange program. (WSYX/WTTE)

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Several dozen faith leaders and other community members who attended a meeting Tuesday evening say they want the Licking County Board of Health to revisit their policy made one year ago to ban a syringe exchange program.

“I have lost too many to needless overdose, to needless infections, and these deaths are preventable,” said Blyth Barnow, with Faith in Public Life. “We know that God loves people who uses drugs, and we know that syringe exchange program promote the safety and health of our entire community.”

Several pastors and family members of loved ones who have battled addiction spoke out in front of the health department offices before the board meeting. The protestors said lives are at stake and they are praying for change. The group carried signs and wore buttons to bring their point home. They said Licking County is the only county in Ohio that has banned needle access programs.

The Licking County Board of Health declined our requests for an on-camera interview. In a statement, the board said: “We are actively working to address the opioid epidemic through a variety of other programs.” It did not say why they don’t support the syringe exchange.

Kris Holden said discarded needles are a safety issue in Newark. Holden volunteered to clean up Everett Park to expand a frisbee golf course for the community. Holden said he could get behind a syringe exchange program after what he has seen from the homeless and addicted who frequented the area along the river.

“You would find needles or something like that around here, the river trashed all along the side, it took a really long time to get it all cleaned up,” Holden said. “A program such as the needle exchange would help with addiction I think.”

We found mixed reactions to the needle exchange in the community. Some said the issue has been polarizing.

“I think we should have an exchange since we are the only county in Ohio that doesn’t. It probably would cut down on diseases being spread and shared,” said Christina Brooks.

Vivian Zigan said the health department should go a different direction.

“I think it’s enabling, I agree with them not to do it,” said Zigan.

The Board of Health said the syringe program was not on the meeting agenda, but they welcomed the public comment.

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“In meeting people where they are at without judgment and a spirit of unconditional love, and when you look at somebody as if their life matters to you and you back that up with resources, that matters,” said Barnow.

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