Downtown Pasco getting first syringe exchange, other treatment resources

Downtown Pasco getting first syringe exchange, other treatment resources

PASCO, Wash. — The Benton-Franklin Health District is moving forward with plans for the Tri-Cities first syringe exchange program in Downtown Pasco.

Franklin County Commissioners approved the program Tuesday night.

The Board acknowledges syringe exchanges make some people uneasy, but say other communities are seeing success in the fight against opioid addiction and they're hoping for similar results here.

Benton-Franklin Health District Doctor Amy Person said syringe exchanges give those with substance-abuse disorders a safe, legal way to avoid spreading HIV, Hepatitis C, and other infections diseases often passed around by dirty needles.

"I think in the past people worried syringe exchange programs would increase illicit drug use, we know in fact the opposite is just the case," said the doctor.

She said the program isn't a standalone thing, just one part of BFHD's response to keep people healthy amidst a rising opioid and narcotic epidemic, by giving folks options to kick their habit.

Person said it's also about teaching people substance abuse disorder is a chronic disease and both prevention and treatment are necessary to address it.

"Syringe exchange is really a way for us to get our foot in the door to say, 'Here are options for treatment. Here's all the ways we can help you'," she explained.

The Health District said they don't have an opening date but now they have the county's permission to house a syringe exchange in their Pasco building at 412 West Clark St.

Franklin County Commissioners told Action News they liked BFHD's comprehensive focus on education, information and medical treatment to help people break free.

New Art Order Gallery owner David Vasquez's studio is right across Clark Street from the exchange, but he said he isn't worried.

"I feel like instead of them going around to other places, we'll know where they are. And if they can get treatment there somehow, I feel like, why not? Just give them a chance," said Vasquez.

The artist also said it's better than the alternative.

"If we want things to change in our community," he explained, "Instead of throwing the dirt under the rug, we should find the solution for it."

Karen Holbrook drives a schoolbus in the neighborhood and said she knows some are skittish about the idea.

"I don't know a lot about it, but I believe the program can maybe help the people get help. Maybe at a point they'll want help to come off those drugs," she said.

Which is exactly what local health leaders say they're hoping for too.

“It’s a way for us to have an open door if people are ready to step through it," said Dr. Person. "It’s the carrot to get them in the door and continue to be able to talk to them about options, so when they’re ready they know whats available for them.”

Action News spoke with people against the idea of the needle exchange moving in to Downtown Pasco but they said they didn't feel comfortable expressing their views on camera.

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