A startup syringe exchange program in Chelan and Douglas counties is meeting heavy resistance from some elected county office holders and some members of the public. 

A heavily attended joint public meeting of commissioners of both counties this week uncovered sharp disagreements over the program's effectiveness and results. 

Psychologist Julie Rickard of the North Central Suicide Prevention Coalition says syringe exchange programs get drug addicts and abusers on the road to recovery. 

"The research is very clear that they have a five times more likelihood of showing up and getting treatment if someone is actually working with them every time they have to show up to have to face someone eye to eye to get that needle," said Rickard. 

Response from commissioners was generally not supportive of the program and residents in attendance voiced strong opposition. 

Douglas County Commissioner Kyle Steinburg says he'll try to cut county funding for an organization that performs syringe exchanges. 

“I am an elective representative of a constituency who largely does not support this,” said Steinburg. “I, in good conscience, could not represent them, and financially, on the other hand, support on organization that goes out and supports SSP (Syringe Services Programs) programs.” 

Steinberg received rousing applause from the audience. Rickard called Steinburg’s statement a “veiled threat." 

The North Central Washington YWCA is starting a mobile unit program to provide syringe exchange services to drug addicts and abusers.    

The mobile unit will provide a “wide range of harm reduction resources,” including syringes. A used syringe would be exchanged for a new syringe as part of the program. 

The YWCA has roughly a year of funding for the program. 

According to YWCA North Central Washington executive director Rachel Todd, the program is getting $60,000 from Thriving Together NCW, $60,000 from Carelon Behavioral Health of Washington and $25,000 from Amerigroup Washington. 

Thriving Together NCW Executive Director John Schapman said his organization has funding, as part of its harm reduction and recovery efforts, to support Syringe Services Programs (SSP).  

He said they’re actively funding one in Grant County that is operated by the Grant County Health District, and actively supporting an SSP program operated in Okanogan County by the Okanogan County Public Health District. 

Schapman noted the Chelan Douglas Health District had considered an SSP program (2019) and opted not to move forward with it. 

He said the YWCA was identified as an organization that could effectively operate an SSP program, and that his organization chose to help finance it. 

Commissioners and residents at the meeting were almost all in opposition to any syringe exchange program, with a few exceptions. 

Commissioners from both counties expressed concern that the program would make drug problems worse and lead to more crime. 

The YWCA receives money from the counties for some of its services. 

From Chelan County, it gets $ 183,785.00 for Emergency Shelter, 134,422.00 for Transitional Housing and $ 43,000.00 for Permanent Supportive Housing. 

The Centers for Disease Control endorses Syringe Services Programs as effective in preventing transmission of blood-borne infections. The CDC also says SSPs help stop substance use and help support public safety.


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