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Equitas Health, Piercology Partner Up to Reduce Risk in Heroin Epidemic

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Equitas Health, Piercology Partner Up to Reduce Risk in Heroin EpidemicPhoto via Flickr Creative Commons.
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As the fight against the growing heroin epidemic ramps up, local business leaders and organizations are beginning to take the matter into their own hands.

Equitas Health, whose Safe Point program provides treatment resources and clean needles for injection, is now partnering with local piercing provider Piercology. Through their partnership, Safe Point is receiving thousands of dollars in funding, which will support the work it’s doing to prevent the spread of blood borne illnesses in Central Ohio.

Safe Point’s needle exchange program is controversial in nature, but Outreach Specialist Rick Barclay said that once people understand its purpose, they’ll see the valuable role it plays in reducing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C in and around Columbus.

“By definition, addiction means you’ve lost the power to choose. If someone no longer has the power to choose, then no one should really be surprised when people have to resort to less safe or healthy means for doing what they have to do, and it’s unfortunate that’s the case, but it’s also why we exist,” Barclay said.

Piercology owner Patrick McCarthy comes into the partnership with a unique perspective, having worked with the state and local health departments to instruct inspectors on what to look for in piercing and tattoo studios to stop the transmission of HIV and Hep C. His background and Safe Point’s purpose align perfectly, as Barclay explained that one of the first questions they ask program participants is “Have you ever had an unprofessional tattoo or piercing?”

“I sort of like the fact that the needle exchange program — some people don’t like it, some people don’t understand it — sort of like piercing,” McCarthy said. “It could be controversial, but nothing’s controversial about preventing people from getting Hepatitis C or AIDS.”

More than just a clean needle provider, Safe Point connects clients with resources for treatment and behavioral health services, as well as standard medical and dental care, and insurance information as well. Of course, clean needles are provided, too, along with band aids, alcohol pads and any other materials used for injection.

Participants in the program remain anonymous through the entire process, moving through the program using a little blue ID card with a designated number. After basic paperwork is filed, Safe Point staff members determine what the client’s needs are, where they’re at in their addiction, and — if they’d been in recovery before — what “threw a wrench” in that process.

While the program’s existence might give law enforcement an easy spot to catch and arrest users, that blue ID card offers a limited kind of immunity for program participants. Able to be used during program hours and within 1,000 feet of an Equitas facility, the card is “designed for people to be able to leave the premises as soon as they get what they need, and return home where they can use as safely as possible,” said Barclay.

“Really, it’s about preserving the health of the individual, but also preventing that spread of blood borne illness,” he added, “so I think law enforcement, by and large, understands that this is a good thing for everyone.”

In support of Safe Point, Piercology has donated $2 from every piercing since June 1. By the time the partnership is over, on September 15, McCarthy will have raised more than $6,000 for the program. Recognizing that “everyone knows someone” affected by heroin addiction, McCarthy calls on the local business community to get involved in the solution.

“I’d like to see other small businesses come together,” McCarthy said. “All these little small businesses, we got a good clientele, and if we start coming together we can start making our own effort and help this crisis.”

For more information, visit equitashealth.com/services/safe-point.

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