Health officials: Pasco needle exchange program plans to relocate, not close

    Health officials: Pasco needle exchange program plans to relocate, not close

    18 thousand: That's how many needles a controversial exchange program collected last month in Pasco.

    Now the Franklin County Board of Commissioners is removing support and asking them to vacate their downtown Pasco location.

    Needle-exchange programs like the one in question are used to keep drug-users safe, providing clean needles and information about how to get clean when they're ready.

    Blue Mountain Heart to Heart director Everett Maroon says Tri-Cities needle exchange set out to save lives, not start controversy.

    "I know from the individuals coming in that we made a difference because they tell me," Maroon says. "When you work in public health, you go to where the crisis is. You don't manufacture your own thing thats easy to talk to the public about, you deal with where the crises happen."

    But that's not why Franklin County says they're withdrawing their support.

    "I'm inherently opposed to any kind of program that enables illegal, illicit, unhealthy behaviors," explained county commissioner Brad Peck.

    He says last week commissioners learned someone could go to the exchange with one used needle and leave with 10 clean ones.

    "The math all changed when we learned it wasn't truly a one-for-one as repeatedly advertised and promised," Peck said.

    The elected official tells Action News the county never actively participated in the program, but now they want even more distance.

    "Franklin County owns the building," he clarified. "Our involvement was that we didn't object to the Health Department using some of the space they rent from us for this program. That's our only involvement in the program."

    Maroon says he wishes commissioners had said something, but says the non-profit's model hasn't changed, and then ten-for-one situation is rare.

    He says they do it even less than the Center for Disease Control's minimum suggestion.

    "We were very clear from the beginning about how we operated and what our protocol was. I know it was mentioned more than once," he said. "There were multiple Q-and-A sessions before the Board of Health which Mr. Peck also sits on. It was available multiple times."

    Maroon says harm-reduction tactics like syringe exchange have helped lessen some of the effects of the opioid crisis.

    "We want to see that number decrease, we want to see people getting a handle on their health," he said.

    The program's director says throwing stuff in boxes and moving isn't that hard.

    He's more worried about the people they serve.

    "Where should they go? Are they going to have a lapse in service?"

    Maroon says ultimately the needle exchange will find a new place to operate, and by then the county will have even less control over how the program runs.

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