King County needle exchange program halted in Federal Way after outcry from city leaders
A mobile needle exchange program has been put on hold in Federal Way, after the city’s mayor, city council, and several residents expressed concerns over the way it operates.
Concerns first began to take shape in late March, after a Federal Way woman witnessed a Seattle-King County Public Health van exchanging needles in a park-and-ride lot. Posing as a drug user, she reported being able to receive a box of 100 needles, and observed people shooting up blocks away from the exchange.
Not long after that, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell expressed frustration with the program, stating that he was not aware the county was offering the service to those without permanent residences, and that the county was “certainly not doing this with our consent or even notification.”
The mobile program currently under scrutiny is known as the South County Referral and Exchange, or SCORE, providing syringe exchange services across the region, as well as referrals to treatment, and naloxone, a medication capable of reversing opioid overdoses.
The eventual goal is to lower the transmission of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, prevent death, combat stigma against drug users, and encourage treatment for the people Public Health engages.
“Needle exchange programs are also an entry into health care services by providing on-site screening and referral to health care,” Public Health Spokesperson Kate Cole told MyNorthwest.
But on Tuesday, Federal Way City Council passed a resolution halting the use of SCORE needle exchange vans inside city limits. Public Health consented to that temporary suspension after “conversations” with the mayor, “and agreed to work collaboratively to help educate constituencies about the program” in the interim.
Cole expects the pause in Federal Way to remain in place for “a short period to allow for further conversations and education.”
“We understand the need to continue to educate the community about the importance of needle exchange services to protect the health of residents in south King County, particularly with the significant increase in fatal overdoses that is impacting our communities,” she said.
King County also operates needle exchanges in downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, Judkins Park, and the University District. It also operates two mobile units that schedule delivery services in north, east, and south King County.