In 2007 local HIV prevention activist, Adam Reilly, and HIV specialist, Dr. Judith Feinberg, both noticed an increase in heroin use. Dr. Feinberg began seeing more cases of endocarditis in her practice at University of Cincinnati. Reilly saw the increase through his educational outreach at substance abuse centers. United in their concern for what appeared to be an alarmingly increasing trend, Reilly and Dr. Feinberg teamed up to start the legwork of building the Cincinnati Exchange Project.
Knowing that local support would be crucial to building their program, they began engaging key partners such as police officers, faith-based organizers, and other community leaders. They sought members of the community who could be potentially influential in supporting their cause and also anyone willing to listen to why a syringe exchange program (SEP) was vital to our city.
In order to build a program that specifically met the needs of the local population, they spent the next few years visiting at least seven different cities to observe their SEPs in practice. They were able to evaluate how these programs were run and what would and would not work for Cincinnati. In 2009/2010, STOP AIDS ran a local focus group with PWID’s (People Who Inject Drugs) in which they able to determine what local PWID’s needed so that the SEP could be developed accordingly.
In the face of the overwhelming rise of new cases of hepatitis C, legal approval was given by the Cincinnati Board of Health on February 28, 2012 to start operations for the first legal syringe exchange in Cincinnati. This was an amazing coup for CEP. But at this point another set of elections had come and gone, and local government had changed hands. This meant reeducating and reengaging a whole set of new political leaders, which understandably took time and created further delay.
Hoping to get boots on the ground more quickly, CEP went to the city of Springdale in February of 2014. Here, CEP was able to get approval to begin the SEP much more quickly. CEP went directly from the top down by getting permission from the city officials first. In this way a valuable lesson was learned; don’t start from the top down. Unable to locate a community council or business association, CEP did not have as much luck gaining support from the residents of Springdale. Our fledgling program was in jeopardy. The residents of the community did not want a SEP in their city. An ugly public battle began that quickly led to CEP being forced to leave Springdale.
Immediately following the exile from Springdale, CEP was invited to by Reverend Paula Jackson from The Church of Our Savior in Mt. Auburn to set up the exchange on church property. This time, CEP was able to garner community support and approval from the church’s vestry, and the exchange opened up with very little protest. The site grew rapidly and expansion of the program locations became imperative.
With the great success at the Mt. Auburn site and with the help of Reverend Paula and other Mt. Auburn residents, CEP next approached the community council of Northside and the Northside Business Association about opening an exchange site in Northside. Once again, CEP was met with only a small amount of objection, and some of the folks who originally protested the move into the neighborhood have since become wonderful and important allies.
CEP continued gathering community support and opened up a third site in the summer of 2015 in Walnut Hills. This is currently our only site with morning hours.
In February of 2016, CEP expanded beyond Cincinnati into Middletown, Ohio.
As SEPs gain more support, CEP is hoping to be able to move into other areas of the tri-state in order to reach more rural populations that may not want to travel into Cincinnati. Exciting changes are on the way!