Lewis County commissioners eye restricting needle exchange programs

Commissioner Sean Swope says ordinance is needed as drug overdoses and deaths increase


Lewis County could soon pass additional restrictions on needle and syringe exchange programs and forbid safe injection sites.

“We, in Lewis County, have record high numbers when it comes to drug overdose deaths,” Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope said. “We are seeing with law enforcement that they are continually dealing with drug-related issues. And one thing that we would want to see happen is that more people engage in treatment and accountability to get off drugs. And we want to limit the ability for people to continue that downward spiral of drug addiction.”

If passed, the ordinance would ban mobile needle exchange sites, require program operators to offer “on-site counseling or referrals for an approved substance use disorder treatment program,” and ban needle exchange programs from use as a “safe or supervised injection site.”

The Board of Lewis County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on Ordinance 1354 at 10 a.m. on March 19. Swope said the ordinance is necessary to combat a rise in opioid usage and deaths across the country.

“Like any other type of service, there’s different requirements and regulations,” Swope said. “And this is just one that we don’t have any regulations that are on it.”

One organization, Gather Church, operates a needle exchange program in the county, according to Swope. The ordinance would forbid county funds from being used for needle exchange programs.

“Exchange program operator(s) shall not accept any form of remuneration from participants for delivering sterile needle and syringe exchange program services, but shall be funded through funds acquired by other sources,” the draft reads.

Law enforcement, the director of public health and social services and the prosecutor would have authority to inspect such facilities and cite violations. Three or more violations could result in a misdemeanor for the program operator.

The ordinance would limit the needle exchange to a one-for-one, and would forbid “other drug paraphernalia” from being “issued or distributed in any manner.”

While the ordinance focuses on needle exchanges, Swope said the county is also looking at avenues for additional treatment services. Last month, commissioners heard a presentation on potentially establishing a mobile clinic modeled after a unit recently opened by the Chehalis Tribe.

“I think we need to have better treatment options for people, so that is something I’m actively seeking out,” Swope said.

The goal of the mobile clinic would be to remove barriers to treatment and implement procedures that encourage those suffering from addiction to seek the service daily. The mobile unit focuses on “microservices,” with visits that can be completed in 10 minutes or less.

The unit offers new patient intake, medication management, virtual health connections and referrals or transportation to the main clinic, among other services. The unit would go to the same designated stop daily, so patients would know where to go, and would remain for three to four hours at a time.

During their visit, patients receive daily doses of medication, rather than a month-long prescription, which further encourages them to return the following day for additional treatment.

“I’m really intrigued by this,” Swope said following a presentation on the clinic on Jan. 16. “I know in Lewis County, we could use something effective in this manner. And so I’m just trying to figure out how we can make something like that work here.”