With President Trump labeling the opioid epidemic sweeping the country as a “national public health emergency,” the effects of the epidemic in Lane County are visible in a couple ways.
Arrests for heroin possession in Eugene and Springfield increased 68.2 percent between 2016 and 2017. A reported 328 individuals were arrested for possession in Eugene and Springfield in 2017, compared to 195 in 2016. Arrests in 2017 were up 129.4 percent in comparison to data from 2015.
Arrests for possession are not the only statistic indicative of the community’s struggle with heroin. Over the course of 2017, Eugene police responded to 412 calls for service regarding “found syringes” in Eugene, an increase of 19.2 percent compared to 333 calls in 2016. In comparison to 2015, calls for found syringes jumped 69.6 percent.
Eugene isn’t the only community experiencing the fallout of the heroin epidemic sweeping the nation. Portland reported a 64 percent increase in the number of used needles found on city streets and sidewalks. Sidewalks aren’t the only concern; a Portland father told KGW that his toddler was poked by a needle while on the MAX, Portland’s light rail system.
With the arrests and calls for used syringes shooting up, how many needles were found in Eugene?
The exact number is unclear, but data from the HIV Alliance, which provides new needles to IV drug users, gives an estimate of just over 400,000 needles collected from the Alliance’s needle exchange program, which seeks to lower rates of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission.
Renée Yandel, the Alliance’s executive director, said that the number of needles collected in 2017 was a slight drop compared to the roughly 425,000 collected in 2016. But Yandel said that the drop was primarily due to a needle exchange site moving.
“The Springfield syringe site had a big drop,” she said. “It takes time for clients who are understandably concerned about using syringe exchange because of privacy. A new site can be a challenge, but we are seeing the numbers go back up.”
The Alliance’s needle exchange program, which seeks to lower transmission rates of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, collected just over 400,000 needles in 2017. The Alliance estimates that it has around 3,000 clients who are tracked using a client number. Divided equally among the 3,000 clients, roughly 133 single-use needles are given to each client.
On top of the 400,000 needles collected through the syringe exchange, the HIV Alliance collected an estimated 23,000 needles from drop boxes located in Eugene and Springfield.
All the needles collected by HIV Alliance are given to PeaceHealth for incineration. Over the course of 2015 and 2016, HIV Alliance said that over 650,000 needles collected from Lane, Douglas and Josephine counties were incinerated.
But the Alliance’s work is not limited to needle exchange. Yandel said it provides a variety of other services to injection drug users such as information about treatment services.
“We provide medical attention to users who may be suffering from injected-related ailments like abscesses,” Yandel said. “We provide free overdose prevention education and even things like socks for the homeless.”
Correction: Renée Yandel is the executive director of the HIV Alliance.