Commissioners weighing public input on needle exchange

MONTESANO — About 20 citizens have chimed in about the fate of Grays Harbor County’s needle-exchange program, with overwhelmingly support for the program from those who testified during public comment on Monday and a more mixed reaction from a dozen or so emails the commissioners have so far received.

County Commissioner Wes Cormier said Monday he’s still not convinced that spending county money on a program exchanging dirty needles from drug addicts and diabetics should be a county priority. It’s a position he’s had since he was a candidate running for public office more than a year ago.

County Commissioner Frank Gordon is in support of it, saying he’s worried de-funding the $117,400 program, could end up with more dirty needles discarded on playgrounds and streets. Commissioner Herb Welch has voted for the program before, but remains on the fence.

Last week, Public Health Director Joan Brewster requested approval of the county funds, but Cormier put a hold on it because he didn’t feel comfortable with it, and his fellow commissioners agreed to delay a vote to get more public input. Brewster met with Cormier privately on Monday to talk about the program and the other ways the county uses a dedicated sales tax revenue for mental health and substance abuse programs.

On Monday, during public comment at the commissioners’ regular afternoon meeting, former PUD commissioner Jim Eddy told the commissioners that the needle-exchange program saves lives and money in the long run by, hopefully, reducing diseases. Dr. Ki Shin of Montesano told the commissioners, “Once they show up in the jail, we have an obligation to treat them anyway.” The doctor added that there are “too many downstream consequences” to remove the program.

“I do not believe that giving needles to drug addicts is beneficial,” said Allan Shores of Aberdeen in an email to the commissioners. “By doing this, you just keep enabling them to use drugs. … Addicts have to hit the gutter and maybe wallow there for a time before they are willing to change and get help.”