Syringe Exchange Services Position Statement
Posted on 04/08/2019

Benton-Franklin Health District (BFHD) has released a position statement in support of syringe services programs (SSP), also referred to as syringe exchange programs (SEP). BFHD has issued this statement for two primary reasons.

(1) Disease Prevention – when effective interventions to prevent communicable disease and to reduce fatalities are available, public health has a duty to support access to those services.

(2) Education – it is important to ensure that accurate information about syringe exchange programs and about opioid use disorder is available to the public and to policy makers.

Why now? Our community’s current approach to opioid use disorder (OUD) is not working. Opioid overdoses have tripled in the last 15 years. We need to take action. The inclusion of a local syringe exchange program as part of that action was based on its proven success in reducing rates of communicable diseases like HIV and hepatitis C and based on current medical and public health recommendations. SSP/SEP is not the only intervention but it is an integral part of the collective work being done in Benton and Franklin counties to address the opioid epidemic.

While the attention focused on SEP has been good because it has brought opioid use disorder out in the open so that we can engage in civil discourse about this devastating disease and, more importantly, work together on solutions, it’s unfortunate that all the attention has been focused on this single strategy. Syringe exchange programs are not the only work being done at BFHD or in the community. BFHD is identifying better and more complete ways to collect data. We are building community resilience and raising awareness about adverse childhood experiences to reduce risk factors that contribute to substance abuse. Our health care community is learning to identify those at risk for OUD and to follow best practices for opioid prescribing. Representatives from law enforcement, substance use disorder treatment, health care, behavioral health and concerned community members are working together to increase access to drug treatment and to eliminate the stigma associated with addiction.

It’s also important to be clear about the problem we are facing – the disease of opioid use disorder. There is no segment of our community that is immune to this disease. People who inject drugs have been characterized as either criminal or homeless, but that’s a fallacy. This disease affects the employed and the jobless, the housed and the homeless, law-abiding and criminal, PhD and GED, grandparents, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, individuals and families.

This is a complex problem that needs a comprehensive and collective approach. BFHD supports syringe service programs as well as any strategies that are effective and evidence-based. We also understand the unique character of every community so we will continue to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of implementing a syringe exchange program in the Tri-Cities so that policy decisions can be based on data and not fear and supposition.