FEDERAL WAY, Wash. (AP) — Officials in the Washington state city of Federal Way have passed a resolution to temporarily suspend needle exchange programs aimed at reducing the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections in people who inject drugs.
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell and the City Council voted on Tuesday after residents raised concerns about increased crime and needle access because of the King County Needle Exchange Program, KOMO-TV reported Tuesday. Critics of the vote argued that not having the program will make the situation worse.
Needle exchange programs are aimed at reducing the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections by providing sterile syringes and clean equipment in exchange for used syringes.
The programs also provide testing for HIV and other infections, counseling and education about the risks of drug use.
“My hope is that people on both sides will be able to understand the concerns of both sides,” said Mayor Jim Ferrell. “It is more important for us as community members about what we expect, what we deserve and then move forward as a community and report back.”
Resident Grace Lubrano said she posed as a drug user to stake out the program because she was tired of pervasive drug use and littered needles.
“I went up to the van and I said ‘I don’t have a needle to exchange, can I still get something?’” Lubrano said, noting that she was still given a box of 100 needles. “I’m just seeing people there in the parking shooting up or they go down a couple of blocks shooting up.”
Others, including former program users, said removing the program will only increase HIV rates.
The King County Public Health said on its website that the program has been successful in getting people who use drugs by injection off the streets and into treatment. King County said the needle exchange program placed 739 people in drug treatment over the last two years.
Ferrell said the city and county will now consider a replacement plan to help people struggling with addiction.