• An inside look at Snohomish County's needle exchange

    By: Joanna Small

    Updated:

    The North Sound’s only syringe exchange program has too many people to help and not enough staff to help them.

    They’ve asked the Snohomish County Health District to step in and run the program but some city and county officials are adamantly opposed.

    Monday we visited the exchange in North Everett, where we met Dawn.   She was there to exchange her used heroin needles for clean ones.

    “I found the needle exchange 15 years ago and it has literally saved my life,” Dawn told us.

    Syringe exchange in Snohomish County started in 1994; Cheri Speelman took on the non-profit in 1996 and that year they exchanged more than 100,000 needles.

    In 2017 that number is over 2 million.

    “We saw this epidemic as it was coming, we knew it was coming,” said Speelman.

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    And now it’s become a crisis that Cheri’s non-profit can no longer handle on its own; she is one of just two employees who serve every single city in the county out of this office or with their mobile unit.

    "We are at capacity—we cannot do anymore,” Speelman told us.

    So the Snohomish County Health District is looking at taking over the program, helping with funding and staffing.

    But the health district board—made up of representatives from each city and the entire County Council, including Nate Nehring and Sam Low who visited the facility—have reservations and the power to vote down that proposal at its meeting May 8.

    “It wasn’t just a needle exchange—they were passing out rubber bands, passing out cotton swabs, passing out these little cooker kits,” Low said.

    “I was under the impression it was a one for one exchange and the transactions I saw—I spent a half an hour watching people do exchanges, and I didn’t see a single one to one exchange.”

    Speelman says the supplies are for disease prevention and as for the ratio—it’s not an exact science.

    “We can look and say this is how much you have because they bring them in in sharps containers and we know how much a sharps container holds,” Speelman told us.

    She understands the concept can be unsettling but not she says—as unsettling as people like Dawn—dying in the streets.

    “Just because we have an addiction doesn’t mean we’re bad people because we’re not,” Dawn said, fighting back tears.

    The health district board could vote at the meeting Tuesday, May 8, after a period of public comment.

    The city of Marysville has threatened to pull funding from the Snohomish County Health District if the takeover is approved.

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