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Opiate Task Force is leading a program to provide clean needles to people who inject drugs

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - The needle exchange site will be located on Columbia Community Mental Health property in St. Helens, but will not be connected to the organization's main building or accessed through the parking lot. 'It's in a great location because folks dont even know it's the CCMH campus,' CCMH director Julia Jackson said.A needle exchange site will be coming to the Columbia Community Mental Health campus in St. Helens later this month.

According to Julia Jackson, director of CCMH, the site is expected to open Tuesday, June 18. Needle exchange sites allow community members who inject drugs to exchange used products for new, sterile needles and syringes.

Research into needle exchange programs has shown that the programs lead to a reduction in the number of needles disposed in public places, which pose a health risk to the public. Visitors to the site will receive naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, which reverses opioid overdoses.

The needle exchange is a project of the Opiate Task Force, a group that has brought together stakeholders from Columbia County to find solutions to the nationwide epidemic that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a "public health emergency" in 2017. The task force is facilitated by Heather Oliver, prevention coordinator with Columbia Health Services.

Jackson and Columbia County Commissioner Alex Tardif are among the members of the task force.

The needle exchange program received a $10,000 grant and is currently seeking additional grant funding. The St. Helens location will be the first of two locations, with the other located in north Columbia County, near Clatskanie or Prescott.

Law enforcement in the county have been receptive to the need to combat opioid addiction. In St. Helens, police officers began carrying Narcan in 2018. This year, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office began training deputies on how to administer Narcan.

"CCMH has a relationship with law enforcement that ensures officers will not monitor people on CCMH property because the intention is to make a positive impact. There should not be an issue with police monitoring of people coming to exchange needles," according to minutes from the Local Behavioral Health Advisory Council's May 30 meeting.

Of Oregon counties, Multnomah County distributes the most syringes by far, averaging 1.38 million syringes distributed per quarter. Clatsop County, which started its program in November 2017, has provided close to 13 hours of service per month and distributed 35,000 syringes per quarter.

In Oregon, 344 people died from overdoses involving opioids in 2017, a presentation from Yamhill Community Care showed. In addition to providing naloxone and information, needle exchange programs can reduce infections, incidents of HIV and hepatitis C, emergency room visits and other health complications, and in turn reduce public costs, the LBHAC minutes show.

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