The county is in need of a van in order to mobilize its syringe services program, local officials said this past week.
Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, county health officer, said the van would be similar to one the Frederick County Health Department uses for HIV services countywide.
Brookmyer said the $29,092 grant for the van is state money. The reason the department needs to ask the county council for a budget adjustment is, in part, because they are using the county procurement office to try and secure the van.
Additional operating costs would be minimal, she said, because the health department wouldn’t hire additional staff or need to buy much more supplies.
Kelly Weaver, assistant budget director for the county, said the budget adjustment is a reflection of additional state money coming in, which has occurred previously with the county health department.
Outside of the cost, there is a public need for the van because there are barriers for those who need the services, Brookmyer said. One of those is transportation — currently, those who want to utilize the syringe services program have to go to the Health Department’s building on Montevue Lane in northwest Frederick.
“The benefit of having a mobile unit to perform harm reduction or provide harm reduction services means we can more likely reach people where they are, and in a setting where they are comfortable receiving services,” Brookmyer said.
Those services, currently offered at the health department, include distribution of clean syringes, fentanyl test strips, training on overdose response and education on overdose and safe injection practices, along with other services.
She said the van would also create a sense of trust between the health department and those in rural communities, which is vital in people’s chances for recovery.
“Participants of syringe services programs are also 5-6 times more likely to engage in substance abuse treatment as a result of their development of trust and confidence that the staff they are interacting with are willing to meet them where they are without judgment and are there for them when they are ready to contemplate treatment,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We need to meet people where they are,” Brookmyer said. “We need to meet people before they’re even ready to change.”
Officials from both Thurmont and Brunswick both said they’re in support of the van, given the harm the opioid crisis has caused in their communities. John Kinnaird, who’s been Thurmont’s mayor for more than six years, said the opioid epidemic has gotten worse since his tenure started.
A mobile van would help those who can’t drive down to Frederick to receive services, and establish a level of trust between those addicted and the county health department, Kinnaird said.
“If we can get a dozen people to change needles, and we can get some of them to go into recovery, then it’s worth it,” he said. “Because otherwise, you’re not going to be able to get them the information they need.”
Nathan Brown, a Brunswick city councilman, also supports mobilizing the program. He’s part of the Brunswick Addiction Awareness Coalition, which formed this summer to combat the opioid crisis on a local level.
Brown, a lifelong Brunswick resident, said county health department officials presented information about the syringe services program at Brunswick’s city council meeting on Dec. 11. Like Kinnaird, he said the opioid issue has worsened in his area in recent years.
“Without the van, say they’re setting up at the health department, the likelihood that people are going to find transportation from other places in the county is low,” Brown said. “A van where they could travel around the county makes good sense.”
One concern some may have about the program is it might show law enforcement where high levels of drug traffic are, which might deter some people from receiving help.
Brookmyer said that while this could be an issue, the pros of the program outweigh the cons.
“It’s not like we’re going to drive up to people’s houses,” she said. “We’ll be in public areas, but I will tell you that we get information from law enforcement, they’re valuable partners and I wouldn’t expect we would hear or know anything that law enforcement doesn’t already know.”
Kinnaird encouraged law enforcement to do their jobs, but added the van still meets a need in Thurmont.
“I would never tell my police officers to look the other way on anything,” he said. “There is doing it the right way and doing it the wrong way. Nobody is dealing drugs when they’re getting the needles, it’s just a place that they can come and get clean needles.”
Thurmont Police Chief Greg Eyler and Brunswick Police Chief Milt Frech could not be reached for comment by phone Monday.
Brookmyer said the county needs to buy a van by June 30 in order to take advantage of the state grant. The current budget adjustment proposal was because a local car dealership was holding a van for the county through the end of December, she said.
The county council has the budget adjustment item for the van on its Jan. 8 agenda. No matter whether the budget adjustment is approved or what van is selected, it fills a need, Brookmyer said.
“There’s only so much we can do with our brick and mortar building,” Brookmyer said. “We have to meet people where they are if we expect more people to enter the treatment and recovery systems sooner.”