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Opioid Crisis: Oregon Syringe Exchanges a "Gateway" to Help

A program in Clatsop County that provides clean needles for drug users has given out 250,000 needles since it began in 2017. (opiateaddictiontreatment/Flickr)
A program in Clatsop County that provides clean needles for drug users has given out 250,000 needles since it began in 2017. (opiateaddictiontreatment/Flickr)
January 28, 2019

ASTORIA, Ore. – Syringe exchange programs are opening up access to health care for some Oregonians.

Exchanges provide clean needles to prevent the spread of disease, and a Clatsop County program that started in October 2017 has made a big impact.

County Public Health Director Michael McNickle says the program has provided 250,000 needles since it began.

Just as important, he says, is distribution of naloxone, a drug used to fight overdoses.

The county estimates naloxone handouts have saved at least 36 lives.

McNickle says the program plays another important role.

"We're the gateway for the users who have no other alternative,” he explains. “And after the trust is built, they know that we're going to be there every week, and we're still there trying to help them recover and get into recovery.

“So, at some point if they take advantage of that, then we'll help them get to that point in their life where they're ready to take on that next challenge."

The Public Health Department facilitates the program in collaboration with the addiction support group Jordan's Hope for Recovery, with funding from the Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization.

A recent National Safety Council study confirms the U.S. still is deep within the opioid crisis.

Americans are more likely to die from accidental overdoses than car crashes. On average, 130 people die of a drug overdose every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tanya Phillips is health promotion manager for Jackson County Health and Human Services, which runs a syringe exchange program with an estimated 300 to 400 visits a month.

Phillips says exchanges are a proven way to stop the spread of diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV. She says Jackson County's program also increases folks' access to care on the spot.

"We're able to provide health education and resources and if anyone does, after their test, show that they are positive for HIV or Hep C, we're able to make referrals for them to get further testing, but also treatment as well, which is really important," Phillips states.

Phillips points out that the stigma surrounding opioid addiction can prevent treatment.

"It's a chronic health condition, and so how can we change the care that we offer and the mindset that we have around that, to kind of support individuals who do suffer from this addiction in getting help?" she states.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR