Did you know Montavilla Neighborhood has a needle exchange for illicit drugs each Tuesday and Friday evening at St Peter & Paul Episcopal Church on SE Ash and 82nd Avenue from 7:00pm -9:00pm. The public health division of our city has had this particular exchange in place since the 1990s.
According to their website, Multnomah County’s syringe exchange program provides:
- Safe disposal of used syringes in exchange for new syringes, on a one-for-one basis
- Overdose rescue kits including naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdose
- Sharps containers for safe storage of used syringes
- Risk reduction counseling
- Safer sex supplies
- Wound and abscess care
- Referrals to medical and mental health care, shelter services, and alcohol and drug treatment.
Similar items are available from Portland’s Needle Exchange in Montavilla including syringes, a tourniquet, a burner, and small cotton balls for straining impurities and particles out of the syringe.
Reports from neighbors indicate addicts shoot up in their cars and on the neighborhood streets nearby immediately following the exchange. Reports also state dealers attend to sell dope to those attending to get their clean needles. Prowling, thefts and littered needles seem to be plentiful especially on these days.
We have a total of four needle exchange programs in the city of Portland. Two are hosted by Outside In at their locations in Downtown and Clackamas, and the other two are in our neck of the woods. This one at 82nd and SE Ash, and another at 124th and SE Glisan. Learn more here at the Multnomah County Syringe Exchange page.
To obtain free needles you fill out anonymous paperwork and are given needles along with an ID number. The next week you exchange those needles for clean needles. With the ID number your use is tracked, and you seem to be able to get as many needles as you bring in.
Without an ID you can obtain a “health kit” of 10 needles without an exchange.
It gets sticky too when you can exchange needles for other people not present. We witnessed one man particularly caring in boxes of full sharps containers. He received back at least 10 boxes of 500 each syringes, that is 5000 needles. He took trip after trip from his truck. When we asked him why so many he said he was “taking care of six people”. The city tracks the number of people served based on what the recipient tells them. However, the Multnomah County Information Line states attendees are only allowed 50 needles per day, per person.
Kelsi, who works at the exchange said each Friday night in Montavilla this exchange takes in 40k to 50k dirty needles. She also said the exchange takes in more needles than they give on average, noting some of the people they serve pick up from needles others left behind in camps and in other areas. She felt this rids the neighborhood of many needles that would normally be in the area.
The exchange typically offers a free meal on needle exchange days as well. A white sack of food was given to those attending on Tuesday night.
When surveyed, it is reported 70% of those dispensed to were first introduced to drug via prescription opioids. For example Vicodin and Oxycodone. Further: 70% of those participating in the exchange are homeless.
We witnessed most attendees arriving via automobile, with only about 15% via the bus or on foot.
Tuesday there were at least two elderly men who attended. One man appeared to be in construction field based on his outfit, and work tools and the ladders in his truck. Some of those we saw were not a person we would identify as an addict, while some would be more stereotypically identified as addicts in the way they looked.
We saw a few people shoot up in their car, nod off, wake up and then drive. The construction worker drove to a local tavern off Southeast Glisan, sat in the parking lot and shot up. Then he went into the bar.
According to Kelsi, a staggering 170 NEW people each month are introduced to the Montavilla needle exchange alone.
Our city considers this needle exchange harm reduction and a tool for educating about overdose prevention, wound abscess care, and a tool of engagement for rehabilitation.
Kelsi also told us sometimes addicts do ask for help. However, most of the time it takes days for a space to open for rehab and often by the time the space is available (days later) the addict has reconsidered getting clean. She says if there was space open – 15 or so people on a typical Friday night would go into rehabilitation.
Montavilla neighbors have expressed their concerns that the city is not sharing the burden of needle exchange sites. There are no needle exchanges in West Portland, North Portland or South areas in Multnomah County.
Other neighbors have expressed that the city should ensure there is ample and immediate space for rehabilitation.
What are you thoughts? #enoughisenoughpdx