NBC News –
Residents are blaming the county’s needle exchange program that recently started again after being paused in the city for two months.
FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — Used needles are littering bus stops, playgrounds and parks in Federal Way, and some residents are fed up.
Carolyn Hoover has lived in Federal Way for over 60 years. She said lately there has been an increase in people passed out beside needles at bus stops and park-n-rides.
“It’s just right in your face,” said Hoover. “Addicts passed out on the ground, on the benches, under the benches, needles,” she said.
Public Health — Seattle and King County agreed to pause the South County Outreach Referral and Exchange (SCORE) program in the city of Federal Way for two months beginning in April at the request of the mayor.
Residents like Hoover were concerned about an increase in needles found around the city, especially at park-n-rides where homeless individuals exchange needles with the county.
Hoover said she stopped riding public transportation because she no longer felt safe. However, she often picks up friends and family members who still take the bus.
“I can’t even believe what’s happened to my city, the town that I grew up in,” she said.
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell said he’s also concerned about the program, which has returned to the city. He said the city has no legal authority to ban it.
“I am really concerned about facilitating and enabling people who are addicts,” Ferrell said. “Drugs kill people. They destroy communities. They destroy families, and we want to do everything we can to get people off of drugs.”
Ferrell said the pause allowed the city to learn more about the program. During that time, the city established a working group consisting of concerned residents, others in support of the program, police and fire officials and public health staff.
At KING 5’s request, Public Health — Seattle and King County sent the following statement:
“Syringe service programs are proven ways to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne illnesses among injection drug users. They also protect our entire community by reducing the risk for larger community outbreaks, like those that have happened in communities without needle exchange programs.
The SCORE program in Federal Way provides this service by appointment to people who rely on the syringe services program for sterile syringes, accurate, reliable information on health risks, access to health screenings, and opportunities to get connected to treatment for substance use disorder. The program provides sharps containers for safe disposal of used equipment. People may turn-in syringes and sharps containers to the program for safe disposal.”
Still, Mayor Ferrell said he plans to continue communication with the county health department.
“They have probably a greater awareness of our concerns, and there’s an ongoing dialogue about mitigation that’s going to be occurring,” he said. “What we are working on doing is seeing where mitigation can be made with regard to the number of needles that are given out.”
Ferrell said another goal is making sure the county does a better job of clean-up since accumulating needles has been a safety concern.
“They are a health hazard, they are safety hazards and ultimately we don’t want to be a part of this enabling [of] addicts that are already in a desperate situation,” he said. “We want to help people get out of the woods and get [them] off of drugs.”
KING 5 also reached out to King County Metro. A spokesperson said Metro Transit Police are partnering with the Federal Way Police Department to mitigate the problem and connect people in need with services.