What You Should Know about the Thurston County Syringe Services Program

Submitted by Thurston County Public Health and Social Services

All over Thurston County, residents have been impacted by the opioid crisis. People suffering with these substance use disorders are just like us—good people. They’re mothers, fathers and young people…veterans, secretaries, engineers and managers. Many are working people whose substance use disorders began innocently, through prescriptions for medication after surgery, as a result of chronic pain, or as a way to continue functioning in their daily lives. Almost all of them are just trying to get their lives back to normal. The Syringe Services Program is there to protect them and to protect the community as a whole.

The Syringe Services Program provides many community benefits:

  • Minimize disease transmission
  • Provide harm reduction services
  • Provide case management and linkage to treatment
  • Provide referral to services and supports
  • Provide resources for opioid overdose response and naloxone administration

In fact, the bottom line for this program is that it means more people are alive and in recovery. Providing clean needles along with a road and resources toward recovery means lowing rates of HIV in the community, lowering rates of hepatitis B and C, lowering the rates of other viruses, and safely providing proper disposal of needles. While it might take more than $400,000 to treat someone with HIV, it only takes 7 cents to provide a clean needle.

Needle exchange is one for one. That means that when someone brings needles to the exchange, they can only receive the same number of clean needles (or fewer, if they request that—and they do) in return. The Thurston County Syringe Services Program takes in more syringes for disposal than they distribute. In addition to providing resources for people to get food, clothing, health care, and treatment, the program also saves lives. By distributing Naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose, 170 lives were saved in 2018.

Studies show that Syringe Services Programs result in

  • Fewer contaminated needles and improperly disposed of needles in the community
  • An increase in disease education, testing and treatment
  • A decrease in drug-related behavior (one study showed an 11 percent drop in crime).
  • Reduced rates of sexually transmitted disease
  • Savings to taxpayers through a reduction in cases of HIV, hepatitis B and C and the related expense to treat them
  • More people in treatment and receiving referral into the services they need because of increased access to education, support, resources, referral services, and because referrals to these services are made without judgement or stigma

Resolving the many complex issues involved in the opioid crisis will take all of us working together. Programs like the Thurston County Syringe Services Program meet people where they are—but don’t leave them there—and thus provide an amazing service not only to those people who are suffering with substance use disorder but also to our community as a whole. An active Thurston County Syringe Services Program means more people alive and in recovery.

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