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With the growing use of heroin across the United States – a trend mirrored in Oregon and Clatsop County – public health agencies are seeing rising rates of infectious diseases that are often associated with injection drug use, including HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and syphilis. The rising drug use rates also pose a hazard to the rest of a community in the threat from improperly disposed of needles.

In an effort to combat growing rates of infectious disease among intravenous drug users, the Clatsop County Public Health Department is launching a needle exchange program.

Public Health Director Michael McNickle presented the plan to the county Board of Commissioners.

“Public health professionals are trained in, and are dedicated to, the concept of ‘harm reduction,’” McNickle said in a written proposal. “For this proposal, we define harm reduction as a public health philosophy and intervention that seeks to reduce the physical harm associated with injection drug use (IDU) – namely reducing the potential for contracting a life-threatening communicable disease.”

The program is slated to start in August as a six-month pilot project.  Times and locations of the exchanges would be shared through social media and word-of-mouth. Local injection drug users are part of their own “culture” who readily share information among themselves, McNickle said. In a recent survey of injection drug users at the Clatsop County Jail, all of the respondents indicated they would participate in the exchange.

The program will start in Astoria with two Public Health nurses setting up pre-selected locations in at designated times to collect used syringes and hand out clean needles on a one-to-one exchange. Based on the response, the program could be expanded to other areas of the county.

Public Health received a $50,000 donation from the Friends of Columbia Community Health in support of the program. The department has shared its plan with local law enforcement agencies and community leaders.

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