Clallam County to hire addiction counselor for needle exchange

Move is part of pilot project to link clients with services

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Health and Human Services Department will hire a substance use disorder professional for an estimated 18 hours a week as part of a pilot project to link people in need with treatment services.

The Clallam County commissioners approved the $35,000 contract with Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic and the REdisCOVERY program Tuesday.

The funding comes from a grant from the Olympic Community of Health, which describes itself as a nonprofit with the purpose of tackling health issues that no single sector or tribe can tackle alone.

“One of the huge advantages to working with Olympic Community of Health and the REdisCOVERY Team is they continue along with people during their recovery journey,” said Jenny Oppelt, deputy director of the Clallam County Health and Human Services Department.

“So rather than just providing assessment and a referral to treatment services, they walk with them once they exit treatment services or whatever their path may be, such as outpatient services.

“They continue providing services to them for a lengthy period of time. So we’ll be able to track if they are successful in exiting whatever treatment services they have,” she said.

The state Department of Health-credentialed substance use disorder professional will be present during Syringe Service Program hours to initiate substance use treatment assessments and link participants with available treatment services, according to a staff memo to the commissioners.

The person and REdisCOVERY personnel also will be available outside of program hours as needed for people who have started treatment assessments. REdisCOVERY personnel also will provide needs-based supportive services to allow people to begin treatment.

Commissioner Randy Johnson asked how they would keep track of their successes and their failures, especially given that people in substance abuse treatment often relapse.

Oppelt said there’s a variety of measures they can track, such as the number of people they are engaging with and the success rate they have for people entering treatment.

“So we’ll be looking at that throughout the one year. And you’re right. There will be a variety of people, probably people who will be in the program longer.

“So hopefully the one year time frame will give us enough time to look at certain aspects and maybe be able to answer that question,” she said.

Commissioner Mark Ozias said programs like this are something the commissioners have been relatively enthusiastic about as they have looked at them over the course of time.

“Do you have any visibility at this point as to whether the grant source, the Olympic Community of Health, would be providing similar funding in future years? Or is it that if this is something we want to continue past one year we would have to look at alternate or new funding to support it?” Ozias asked.

“It sounds like there is potential for there to be future funding,” Oppelt said.

Commissioner Bill Peach said, “I really appreciate this program and our emphasis on dealing with fentanyl issues, especially here in Clallam County.”

Clallam County’s Syringe Services Program is a prevention and risk-reduction program designed to provide access to sterile needles and syringes, facilitate safe disposal of used syringes, offer chemical dependency counseling, get naloxone out to people and test for Hepatitis C as well as linking people to other important services and programs.

An estimated 260,000 to 270,000 syringes are exchanged each year at the Port Angeles exchange, which is open every Tuesday. Workers are not allowed to count individual needles and syringes for safety reasons so that number is an estimate.

The Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic REdisCOVERY program is comprised of an inter-disciplinary team that provides outreach, navigation, service linkage, case management, and medical and behavioral health care in Clallam and Kitsap counties.

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Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at brian.gawley@soundpublishing.com.

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