Share, of Vancouver, is increasing opportunities for people struggling with drug addiction to drop off used needles and pick up clean ones in the Camas-Washougal area.
Washougal Mayor Molly Coston mentioned during a July 23 Washougal City Council meeting she had been notified by Share that the nonprofit is going to have a van available where needles can be exchanged on early Tuesday afternoons by the former Riverside Bowl site, 3010 N.E. Third Ave., Camas.
Coston said later she was not certain of the start and end times that the needle exchanges would occur in the former bowling alley parking lot, which is also near the Camas-Washougal Skateboard Park.
Olivia Resnick, with Share, said the days, times and sites of needle exchanges are not publicized but are available by calling 360-448-2121.
“People who go to the needle exchange would like for that to not be a public experience,” she said.
Resnick said Share provides outreach services in Camas, Washougal, Battle Ground and downtown Vancouver.
“We give them clean needles,” she said. “It’s an incentive to dispose of their needles properly. There is a significant decrease in the number of sharps found in the community.”
Resnick said nurses and nursing students provide health advice and support for the people who show up for the needle exchanges.
“They give support on wounds, without the need to go to a doctor,” she added. “We are hoping to do more about safe sex and condom distribution with the needle exchange, educate people about sexually transmitted diseases.”
Resnick said Share has offered needle exchange opportunities for about five months, and it is primarily people who use methamphetamine and heroin who show up.
Clark County offers free syringe exchanges from 3 to 6 p.m., Mondays and Wednesdays, as well as from 2 to 5 p.m., on Fridays, at 3701 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver. The building is located along a C-Tran bus line.
The county program is separate from the Share program, but there have been discussions about potential partnerships, according to Marissa Armstrong, with Clark County Public Health.
Katie Frisbie, 32 and homeless, has been visiting the Clark County syringe exchange site for two years.
Frisbie, addicted to heroin and methamphetamine, said adding more needle exchange sites would be “awesome.”
“Having a place like this does not create more drug addicts,” she said, Monday, after receiving supplies from the county syringe exchange site. “It just helps the drug addicts that are here be safer.”
The supplies include NARCAN(R) nasal spray for the emergency treatment of an opioid overdose.
A woman who did not want her actual name printed but goes by the nickname of “Cali,” is a former methamphetamine and heroin addict who picks up “care packages” at the county syringe exchange site for people she knows who are still using drugs.
The packages include NARCAN(R), condoms, adhesive bandages, sterile water that can be used to mix with drugs and containers for used needles.
“People that I still care about in Vancouver, Camas and Washougal — I pick up (the supplies) for them,” “Cali” said. “They are care packages — sanitary and safe.”
She said there needs to be as many needle exchange sites as possible.
“Cali” said she picked up enough used needles behind a convenience store in Vancouver, Monday, to fill up a two gallon plastic bag.
“Little kids could get into them,” she said.
“Cali,” a mother of three, spent 45 days in jail for obstructing a law enforcement officer, and then attended outpatient treatment at Lifeline Connections, on the Camas-Washougal border.
Mayor Coston said she hopes that with the needle exchange programs that few needles will be found in public parks and on roads. She said city of Washougal public works employees find about five needles in parks a week, and the workers are trained to handle and dispose of them.
Washougal Police Chief Ron Mitchell said the exchanges decrease the number of new HIV and Hepatitis C cases because infected users are less likely to share needles.
“They provide safe disposal of needles with the goal of reducing the number of discarded syringes/needles in our parks and streets, therefore reducing accidental needle sticks to the public,” he said.
Mitchell added that needle exchanges are cost effective as preventive measures.
“It costs less to provide clean needles than to treat a person infected with HIV,” he said. “The needle exchanges also provide an opportunity for clients to build relationships with providers, with the hope of leading them to seek treatment services.”
Camas City Councilman Steve Hogan said he agrees there are numerous positive points.
“I have listened to the opinion of our police chief (Mitch Lackey) that the benefits outweigh the negatives,” Hogan said. “Others in the community state that the long term costs are reduced by having this program available.
“At this point, I am repeating opinions of individuals I respect,” he added. “I still have doubts and questions, but since I respect their opinions, I would lean towards letting their program move ahead as planned.”
Lackey deferred to the County Public Health Department for its expertise on the topic of the positive effects of needle exchanges.
“I can tell you that one often mentioned benefit of a needle exchange program is that it helps keep discarded, used needles from being disposed of in the streets, parks or other places where another person might be exposed to a needle stick,” he said.
Camas City Councilwoman Deanna Rusch said she does not have enough information on the needle exchange program to have an opinion.
“However, I am always in support of programs that promote public health, all while keeping public safety at the forefront of any program we support,” she said.