It's too early to tell if Hamilton County's needle exchange program may be making a difference in local HIV infections. The number of new cases in the first quarter of this year is less than the same period last year. But more of the cases come from intravenous drug use (IDU).
Assistant Health Commissioner Craig Davidson says the opioid crisis is behind the rise that started in 2016. He says the number of infections from IDU rose from about 9 percent in 2016 to almost 20 percent last year. For the first quarter of 2018, IDU accounts for more than 35 percent of all cases.
Davidson says in January, Hamilton County Public Health started a harm reduction program. "According to the Centers for Disease Control, among people who do inject drugs, those who access and use a harm reduction program are five times more likely to enter treatment for substance use disorder, and are more likely to stop or reduce their injection practices," he says.
Davidson says the program has been growing. He says each week, the number of people seeking help has climbed by about 10 percent.
"We've expanded with our partners in Clermont County. They offer programming as well. We just hit our 100,000 syringe exchange mark in the last couple of weeks."
Intravenous drug use is now the second leading cause of HIV infection, behind high risk heterosexual (HRH) contact. Davidson says HRH-related HIV infections are also sometimes influenced by drug use.
Last year, IDU infections were a distant third behind men having sex with men.