Source: Tri-City Herald
Needle exchanges are a proven way to prevent disease and reduce deaths.
That’s the message Benton-Franklin Health District officials are trying to get out to the community.
There are so many misconceptions about needle exchange programs that the district has taken the unusual step of issuing a position paper in support of them.
It’s the first public stance of its kind on any health issue since Dr. Amy Person became the health officer for the two counties in fall 2011.
The Tri-Cities has had a needle exchange site for almost a year until it was evicted by Franklin County commissioners from a public building in February.
The nonprofit group operating it quickly partnered with local doctors who specialize in treating addiction to reopen the exchange in Kennewick, where neighboring businesses also were concerned about it.
Despite where it is located, health district officials said they have a duty to support policies and programs proven to prevent disease and reduce deaths — including fighting misconceptions.
“As in any disease outbreak, public health cannot sit on the sidelines, but must respond to protect the health of the community,” said the statement.
Opioid overdoses in the two counties have tripled in 15 years, making it clear that the community needs a better approach to opioid use disorder, according to information released by the health district.
Officials report 115 people died from opioid overdoses from 2013 to 2017.
Needle exchanges, while just part of the solution to growing cases of opioid use, are effective, said health officials.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration and American Society of Addiction Medicine are among the national agencies that recommend them.
Two decades of research show that syringe support services prevent disease and do not increase intravenous drug use, said the district.
In fact, people who use needle exchange programs are more likely to seek treatment for substance use, Person said.