The Latah Recovery Center in Moscow is considering implementing a program that would allow people to exchange used needles and syringes for clean ones to reduce diseases, like HIV and hepatitis C, and help people recover from drug addiction.

The implementation of the center’s harm-reduction program, of which the needle exchange is a part, is expected to be voted on by the recovery center board Tuesday. The program has drawn both support and opposition from those associated with the center.

Darrell Keim, executive director at the recovery center, said besides providing clean needles and supplies, like alcohol swabs, the recovery center would make the person aware of local recovery resources and options for obtaining testing for diseases caused by used needles — all of which are in line with the requirements provided in the Syringe and Needle Exchange Act passed by the Idaho Legislature in 2019.

“We’re hoping long term they’ll enter recovery and want to stop using drugs,” Keim said. “But in the meantime, we want them to do it as safely as possible so they’re not reusing needles (and) they’re not sharing needles. … It’s not just ‘here’s your needles,. It’s ‘here’s how to get out of this lifestyle when you’re ready.’ ”

Those who oppose the program say it would enable drug addicts to continue using.

Justin Kaucic, who leads a recovery-based group at the recovery center, said the harm reduction program seems like a good idea on paper as it would, in theory, reduce diseases.

But, Kaucic said, he worries addicts would collect used needles, obtain clean ones from the recovery center and then exchange the new needles for drugs on the street. He said some addicts might exchange clean needles for sexual favors.

“Addicts are extremely desperate people,” Kaucic said. “And in my opinion, as someone who’s been there in that life, the last thing you want to do is help people continue that lifestyle. Now, I don’t have the answer but I can tell you that the needle exchange program or the harm reduction program is not it, at least from an addict’s point of view.”

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, three Safer Syringe Programs in Idaho operated between July 1, 2019 and April 30, 2020.

During that time, 55,730 syringes were safely disposed of and 64,623 sterile syringes were provided. At least 50 Idahoans accepted a referral to a substance use disorder treatment program, at least 13 opioid overdose deaths were prevented with naloxone provided by the program and 750 people were screened for HIV while 150 were screened for Hepatitis C.

Ariana Murphy, recovery center board member and chairwoman of the recovery center’s harm reduction program subcommittee, said she nearly died from used needles when she was a heroin addict.

She said she never used other people’s needles but she had a difficult time obtaining clean ones, so she reused her own. Because of this, Murphy got MRSA, a staph infection, and it developed into sepsis, the body’s often deadly response to infection, according to the Sepsis Alliance website.

Murphy said she spent three weeks at a Spokane hospital where she had multi-organ system failure, including a small heart attack and collapsed lung. She was on Medicaid, so her nearly $500,000 in medical bills were paid for by taxpayers.

“That all could have been prevented had I had access to clean needles (and) supplies to use,” Murphy said.

She said dirty needles will not deter addicts from using drugs.

“We know these people are going to do this anyway,” Murphy said. “It’s risky activity. If we can cut down on the risk that they are putting themselves in day in and day out, hopefully not only will that save lives in the meantime, but eventually it will get them in the frame of mind of caring about themselves and seeing that there’s other people that do care about them.”

Moscow Police Department Chief James Fry echoed the comments of Keim and Murphy, saying providing fresh needles could reduce the chances of contracting diseases and increase the chances of people using the recovery center’s resources.

Kaucic, who has been clean since 2018, said he shoved thousands of needles in his arms when he used methamphetamine and heroin. He claimed the Moscow Police Department saved his life when it arrested him for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Kaucic said the needle exchange program is “highly misguided” and enabling. He said it would be better suited for a hospital or CHAS Health in Moscow.

“If there was a program like this and if I was still using, I would never quit,” he said. “There would be no reason to quit. If I had someone to provide me with clean needles, why would I quit?”

In response to people saying the program is not a recovery method so the recovery center should not implement it, Keim said, “It’s hard for people to recover when they’re dead.”

Casey Dail, a licensed professional counselor who offers mental health counseling at the recovery center and Moscow Crisis Center next door, said she has yet to find one addict who she treats at the recovery center who would feel comfortable using the center if the program was implemented.

Dail said the program sends the message that it does not believe an addict can recover.

“I don’t view my clients with that philosophy,” Dail said. “I view them with dignity thinking that they could actually meet these standards of recovery and I’ve seen it a lot.”

Murphy said if recovering addicts at the recovery center found the program to be harmful to their recovery, then it would consider moving the program to another location.

Keim said the recovery center is considering partnering with a north Idaho organization to provide the program. He did not name the organization because the program is only proposed at this point. Keim said the program would be similar to the North Idaho AIDS Coalition’s harm reduction program, which can be visited at www.northidahoaidscoalition.org/harm-reduction-program.

The Latah Recovery Center board will make a decision on whether or not to implement the program at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the recovery center in downtown Moscow. Keim said board meetings are open to the public and that he recommends those with comments on the program to email latahrecoverycenter@gmail.com.

Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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