Commissioner Sharon Meieran Asks Multnomah County to Save Needle Exchanges From Budget Cuts

“It’s definitely saved lives,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran said of the county’s needle exchange sites.

Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran is seeking to save the county's needle exchange sites from budget cuts.

Last week, WW examined the county's proposal to cut roughly $200,000 from the needle exchange sites in next year's budget. Shortly before that story published, Meieran told WW she and fellow Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson would present an amendment to the County Commissioner to restore full funding for the Harm Reduction program.

On Thursday, May 23, Meieran did just that. She proposed that the county provide $197,000 in one-time funds to continue fully supporting the current Harm Reduction program. The restoration would prevent closure of a mobile needle exchange site in Gresham and would allow the county to continue providing sharps containers.

"We don't know how that money will be allocated, [if] it will come from additional contingency funds that we have available," Meieran told WW.  "That's what we'll be figuring out over the next week before the final budget comes out."

Her amendment followed WW's inquiry into the cuts. But Meieran says she's been planning the amendment since shortly after the budget was submitted in April.

Meieran says the county exchanges a "staggering number" of syringes every year, and that the Harm Reduction program is one that has greatly benefited the county's health—and wallets, too—by preventing bloodborne diseases transmitted through dirty needles.

"The cost of treating Hepatitis C, which we also cover at the county, is $20,000 a pop for one treatment injection," Meieran says.

Addressing her fellow commissioners Thursday, Meieran said the one-time funding for the Harm Reduction budget would give the county "time to engage with other entities" so that the program could stay fully funded in future years.

Meieran told WW prior to the proposal that "we intend for this to be [a] full restoration of funding harm reduction services" and that "some of the programmatic components may be shifted" to other county departments, such as the Department of County Assets possibly taking over the dispersal of sharps containers.

The proposed budget, which was released in late April, would cut the program's funds by $200,000 dollars, ultimately discontinuing the mobile needle exchange site in Gresham and no longer handing out sharps containers.

The proposed cuts were met with fury by advocates of needle exchange sites.

The final budget will be presented on May 30.