Clean needle exchange to move forward in Ogden after changes made to offerings

OGDEN, Utah -- After about a year of negotiations and planning, the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition will be able to run a clean needle exchange program at Metamorphosis in Ogden.

The program starts Friday, September 1 and will run every Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in a conference room at Metamorphosis Ogden.

“Ogden specifically has the third highest overdose rate in the state behind Carbon and Emery county," said Mindy Vincent, Utah Harm Reduction Coalition founder and Executive Director.

UHRC will hand out syringes and alcohol wipes only from the Ogden location.

“When people share syringes, they are three times more likely to transmit or contract Hepatitis C and if people are not sharing syringes but still sharing the works, the things that we’re not giving out in Ogden, they are still three times as likely to transmit or contract Hepatitis C," Vincent explained.

Initially, their kits included much more, as they do in the Salt Lake City area. The kit typically includes cotton balls, a tourniquet, a cooker, and alcohol wipes.

Ogden police said those items are considered drug paraphernalia and, delivering paraphernalia for the purpose of someone’s illegal drug use is a crime in Utah.

Chief Randy Watt said the intention of the existing legislation allowing for the syringes is: "to facilitate a reduction in transmitted diseases by the intravenous drug users by providing them a clean syringe and needle. We don’t believe the legislature ever intended to provide a full blown hit kit for a narcotics user."

Watt said all were able to come to a compromise by agreeing the program will only hand out clean syringes; the police are also OK with alcohol wipes.

“We’re optimistic that we can have this and not have some of the periphery problems that they have in other locations,” Watt said, adding that police will be watching.

Meanwhile, Metamorphosis Ogden Program Director Tyler Anderson said he hopes sharing the building with the program will help open more doors for treatment.

“Harm reduction is about meeting people where they are," Anderson said. "Preventing the spread of disease is what the needle exchange program is all about. The fact that it’s happening here at a treatment facility is also an awesome segue for them to get into treatment."

Vincent said the program alone is not a solution, but impactful in their efforts to reduce the spread of disease. She said it will take many different approaches and people to help cut down on the opioid crisis.

“We don’t condone drug use," Vincent said. "We do not give people their kits and high five them and say 'We’ve heard there’s some good stuff around. You know, have a good time.' We never miss an opportunity to tell people that their lives could be better probably without substances."

Vincent hopes to open more programs next in Utah, Carbon and Emery counties.