A look inside Pasco’s syringe exchange
The Tri-Cities’ needle exchange is moving for a second time in two months, this time to a spot next to an existing drug treatment center in Kennewick.
Walla Walla-based Blue Mountain Heart to Heart is moving to 8514 W. Gage Blvd, Suite C. The relocation is aimed at ending complaints about the exchange’s Bruneau Place location.
Ideal Option is leasing the spot to the nonprofit. It needle exchange is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays.
The new location is next to Ideal Option’s Kennewick facility. The company has run its alcohol- and drug-rehabilitation centers from the site for the past six years.
While it has a Gage Boulevard address, the building is located back from the street and next to a strip mall and behind a storage facility.
A troubled two months
Blue Mountain served about 330 Tri-City clients during its 10-month stint in downtown Pasco. It exchanged used syringes for clean ones, and was handing out condoms as part of its mission to have a safer, healthier community.
The facility also used free overdose reversal drugs 98 times in 2018, and its 2017 budget of $260,000 was largely fueled by government grants.
While the organization has been running an exchange in Walla Walla for years, the new exchange in Pasco was much more successful in trading syringes.
The problems started in February when the Franklin County commissioners decided to evict the nonprofit from the county building it was using.
In reaction, the founders of Ideal Option stepped in and in six days bought the Bruneau Place location for $145,000, according to Benton County property records.
They wanted to move quickly to preserve a service that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, curbs rates of HIV and hepatitis C.
Since that move in March, nearby residents and business owners have raised concerns about both the concept of a needle exchange and what it specifically would do to the neighborhood along Vista Way.
Dr. Jeff Allgaier, one of the founders of Ideal Option, said the reaction was understandable but rooted in unfounded fears that the program would lead to increased crime and the enabling of drug use. He said those things did not happen, and police were at the location during all hours of operation.
“However, the anxiety created from anticipating these issues led to significant distress for these businesses, and that was our reasoning for moving,” Allgaier said. “We have now moved to an area where Ideal Option has been for over six years without any problems. We have close to 1,000 patients we treat for opioid addiction at that location, and have for many years.”
The concerns prompted the Benton-Franklin Health District to issue a position paper on the benefits of needle exchanges, the first public stance of its kind in more than seven years.