There’s discussion around Kitsap County about a local needle exchange program.
The program, called Ostrich Bay Exchange, is operated by Monte Levine who has had the needle exchange for some time in a neighborhood in Bremerton. By city code, the exchange is not allowed in the residential zone and Levine has been told his exchange on Wycoff Avenue will be shut down.
A complaint from a local activist prompted city officials to send Levine a letter. No date has been determined at which he will be shut down, but Levine has said he doesn’t have another location to move to and isn’t sure how much time he has to relocate.
The Ostrich Bay Exchange is one of only three needle exchange programs in Kitsap County. Others include one run by the Health District at 345 Sixth St., Suite 300, Bremerton, where needles are exchanged one-for-one in an anonymous manner and a third program operated on the S’Klallam Indian Reservation.
Health district officials said Levine’s program has made a substantial impact in Bremerton and they don’t want to see it go away. Some have offered the idea of a mobile program that could travel from area to area throughout Bremerton and maybe beyond.
One thing is for sure, Kitsap County needs the Ostrich Bay Exchange. Just ask anyone who walks in public parks near downtown Bremerton, or who passes through alleyways between the buildings there. Check out Facebook and see the photos of needles that residents have picked up and brought to city council meetings to show the need for more needle exchanges.
There was a day when the public could close their eyes to hypodermic needle drug use. There was a time when we could pretend it wasn’t happening. But AIDS and HIV epidemics and the sharing of needles that spread those diseases and others including Hepatitis C ended all of that.
Today it’s a reality that we need these needle exchange programs to keep our communities clean, and to reduce the costs of caring for those with these illnesses that can be spread through dirty needles.
The city of Bremerton owes it to the local community to come up with some kind of compromise that will keep Levine in business while allowing his current residential location to be free of needle exchange traffic.
Needle use in Kitsap County has increased more than 200 percent in the past five years. It would be great if it just went away, but it won’t. So we need to be prepared to deal with it through adequate needle exchange programs.