FEDERAL WAY, Wash. —A controversial King County needle exchange program is back in the City of Federal Way.
The South County Outreach Referral and Exchange (SCORE) program was paused in the city for nearly two months after neighbors raised concerns about crime, and hundreds of needles piling up in neighborhoods and homeless encampments.
The SCORE needle exchange van has been serving Federal Way since 2009, but since the pandemic, thousands of needles are turning up everywhere.
In March, in a park and ride lot, neighbor Grace Lubrano says she got a box of 100 needles from a King County SCORE needle exchange van—after making an appointment.
“I just said, ‘I don’t have a needle to exchange, can you give me something? And then I’m presented with a box of 100 needles,’” said Lubrano. “I didn’t know what to say. I went back to my car and sat there dumbfounded for a while.”
Neighbors had been concerned with open drug use and hundreds of needles littering parks, protected lands and homeless encampments.
“No matter what they do, it’s still going to bring the drug addicts, the dealers and the crime,” said Lubrano.
In April, the Federal Way Mayor and King County paused the program.
“We don’t have the authority legally as the City of Federal Way to stop this,” said Mayor Jim Ferrell.
Mayor Jim Ferrell created a task force and sent a letter to King County requesting changes to SCORE.
The biggest one was for the van to cut back the number of needles distributed per person and to stick to a one-to-one needle exchange.
“The amount of needles they’re putting out is not appropriate and not coupled with common sense,” said Ferrell.
Now the program is back.
Public Health Seattle-King County officials said a task force decided it’s vital to the community.
In response to the mayor’s letter, Public Health said because of the pandemic and to promote social distancing, they’ll continue using a CDC recommended needs-based model, rather than the one-for-one needle exchange.
“Drugs destroy individuals, they destroy families and communities and we want to help people go in the other direction and get off drugs,” said Mayor Ferrell. “But we also want to make sure ultimately that we’re not enabling and that’s really what this is about.”
The city is now tasked with cleaning up and finding more ways to help those struggling with addiction.
Neighbors say the pause to figure that out, was too short.
“Everyone is really upset that the van is back because it just means everything is going to continue that was happening before,” said Lubrano.
Officials said SCORE will serve Federal Way two to three times a week, depending on requests from Federal Way residents.
SCORE serves clients Tuesdays through Fridays and will visit only Park and Rides and private residences in Federal Way.
Officials said the program was designed to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne illnesses among injection drug users.