At one point, Girls! guitarist Joey Blackheart dreamed of establishing Columbus' first needle exchange program.

At one point, Girls! guitarist Joey Blackheart dreamed of establishing Columbus' first needle exchange program.

In the wake of the local musician's death of a drug overdose earlier this year, two friends, Amanda Propaganda and Kevin Failure, have pledged to bring this message of harm reduction to the masses, launching the inaugural Blackheart Fest - a three-day music festival staged at Cafe Bourbon St./The Summit and Used Kids beginning on Friday, Oct. 17, and featuring performances from Pink Reason, Nervosas, Hexers and more - to raise funds for a proposed non-profit and to continue the public dialog around a growing health crisis.

"It's an important cause, especially because there is a heroin epidemic going on in the country," said Failure, who joined Propaganda for an early October interview at a north campus bar. "People brush it under the rug, but it's everywhere. The town I grew up in, it's a small town, and there are billboards talking about heroin and treatment options."

The drug's increased prevalence presents a challenge for both users and public health officials, since sharing needles increases the risk of contracting diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, a viral disease that attacks the liver. According to the Ohio Department of Health, the leading risk factor for hepatitis C infection is now intravenous drug use.

Proponents of needle exchange programs contend the practice prevents the spread of these diseases, while protecting the general public from dangers represented by discarded syringes. At present, only two such programs exist in Ohio: a long-established Cleveland program, and a more recent addition in Portsmouth. In recent months, however, legislation easing restrictions has been debated, and, in Ohio at least, a needle exchange can be initiated anywhere with permission from law enforcement when the board of health declares a state of emergency.

"There have been legal road blocks for a long time," said Propaganda, noting the group hopes to launch a needle exchange program within the year. "But this is something that can be done grassroots, and it kind of has to be."