CLATSOP COUNTY, Ore. -- A new needle exchange program in Clatsop County is off to a strong start.
In a two-week period, health workers collected 3,100 used needles.
“We really thought this was an absolute need in Clatsop County,” said county public health director Michael McNickle.
Over the summer, health officials worked with city leaders and local law enforcement to begin talks of starting an exchange. During that time, the county declared a syphilis outbreak that was contributed in part to injection drug users sharing needles. After discussion, Clatsop County commissioners declared the exchange necessary, said McNickle.
“For every needle we get, we give one back,” McNickle said.
Users also receive educational information about community resources for those battling addiction. Drug use is not allowed at the exchange sites, said McNickle.
After consulting with users, public health officials decided to set up the mobile exchange site at the end of 32nd Street in Astoria, behind a Safeway.
Thursday marked the fourth exchange for the new program. The first exchange drew no users, said McNickle.
The exchange the following week brought in 100 needles. The week after that, health workers collected 3,000 syringes.
“It was kind shocking,” McNickle said. “But at the same time, I’m like, ‘we made some progress.’”
The exchange is aimed at reducing the spread of disease between drug users in addition to hopefully reducing the amount of used needles left on the street.
“If people have their own equipment, and they don’t share [needles], it will cut down Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, HIV,” said Tom Duncan, a Clatsop County public health officer.
“If we can start changing the practices, we’ll see a reduction in the number of communicable disease and the number of visits to the emergency department,” added McNickle.
The exchange comes as a relief for some.
“It made me feel like hope,” said a man who used the exchange and wished to remain anonymous. “It makes me feel like there’s people out there that are actually attending to this epidemic. They’re actually looking for solutions instead of calling it a problem.”
Kerry Strickland, who runs a nonprofit group aimed at spreading addiction awareness, was on site passing out naloxone to users. Naloxone is a medication used to treat narcotic overdose.
Strickland’s son, Jordan, died two years ago due to an accidental heroin overdose.
“If I can save one family from this awful, devastating experience, then it makes his death a little bit easier to handle,” she said. “I’m here because these are human beings. And they are suffering from a disease.”
McNickle says the health department plans on hosting exchanges every Thursday moving forward, provided funding is available.