Transit approves Narcan at center

The Clallam Transit board approved the Clallam County Department of Health and Human Services placing a Narcan dispenser at Gateway Transit Center in Port Angeles.

The dispenser, which looks like newspaper rack, will contain free doses of Narcan nasal spray, an over-the-counter drug that can reverse the symptoms of a potentially fatal overdose caused by opioids like fentanyl, OxyContin and heroin.

The transit board voted 5-1 to pass the measure on June 26. The topic had been tabled during the May 15 meeting when the board requested more time and information.

Health and Human Services Deputy Director Jenny Oppelt and harm reduction coordinator Siri Sims explained at the June 26 meeting why the department was expanding its distribution of Narcan from five to 15 sites across the county. Clallam County has one of the highest per capita rates of drug overdoses in the state, and the big shift from heroin to fentanyl played a part in that, Sims said.

“We need the Narcan with fentanyl because it is cheap and it’s not carefully manufactured, so what you think is a dose of fentanyl is a lot stronger,” Sims said.

“It’s also cut in with other drugs, so when people think they are using methamphetamine, say, they are really getting meth and fentanyl.”

About one-third of opioid overdose deaths in the county are linked to fentanyl, she said.

The Narcan would be provided by the state Department of Health with funds from a settlement following a lawsuit the state filed against three opioid companies, Oppelt said, so no local dollars will be used to pay for it.

Transit workers have strenuously objected to the availability of free Narcan at the Gateway Transit Center. Those who spoke Wednesday said it will attract more vandalism, crime and people with substance and mental health disorders to an area that has become more difficult to maintain since the transit system’s no-fare policy went into effect on Jan. 1.

Casey Rudd, who has worked in Clallam Transit’s maintenance department for 24 years, said the situation is “getting dire” and will only become worse if a Narcan dispenser is installed.

“A supervisor was assaulted, and yesterday, we had to have a bus taken out of service because there drugs were found on it,” Rudd said.

“You guys on the board don’t realize the repercussions of some of your actions. This is some of those repercussions.”

Another maintenance worker, James Vaughan, said that while the hiring of a dedicated downtown resource officer at Gateway Transit Center has helped address many issues related to individuals who are violent, under the influence of drugs or alcohol or suffering from a mental health disorder, it is not enough.

“They know he leaves at 4 o’clock,” Vaughan said. “Putting a Narcan dispenser down there is only going to make it worse.”

While bus drivers and maintenance workers were not unsympathetic to individuals struggling with mental illness and substance abuse, Rick Burton, the union representative for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, who also is a non-voting member of the board, said Clallam Transit is a transportation agency, not a social service agency.

Port Angeles City Council member Navarra Carr, Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin’s alternate on the board, said she strongly supported the resolution.

“It’s obvious that our community is hurting, and it’s up to all of us to be helpful,” she said.

The success the Jamestown Healing Clinic has demonstrated in treating opioid use disorder is a reason to provide Narcan to the community, board member Kathy Downer said.

“There is no correlation between Narcan and drug use,” she said.

Oppelt said making Narcan freely available does not just save the lives of individuals suffering from an overdose but benefits those non-using friends and family members who could carry it with them to protect the life of someone they know.

Maintenance Manager Gary Abrams pointed out the department’s Harm Reduction Health Center is just 2 1/2 blocks from the Gateway Transit Center. No other transit system in the state has a Narcan box, he added.

Clallam County commissioner Mark Ozias said the board needs to work with the maintenance crew and drivers to find a solution to the challenges they are facing.

“I don’t know if that’s extra security, working with the city to have an additional resource officer, contracting with one or more of our local providers to bring assistance, making investments in more people who can help with the cleanup load,” Ozias said.

“But I think there are a lot of things we can and should do to address the very real problems described today. It’s incumbent upon us to do that.”

Voting for the resolution were board President Brendan Meyer, Rachel Anderson, Ozias, Downer and Carr. Jeff Gingell cast the dissenting vote.

“I’ve seen people taken captive by addiction and what it’s done to our community,” Gingell said. “But we’re here to represent the folks who voted for us and to give us a voice here as well, and the overwhelming majority of people who I’ve talked to do not want this at this time. They think we can do a better job of stewarding their dollars to help solve this real problem.”

In other action, the board unanimously agreed to a request for $75,000 to replace Clallam Transit’s outdated security camera system. The new Hi-Tech Electronics system will be installed at Gateway Transit Center, transit system headquarters and the Forks and Sequim transit centers.

The new system has night vision and can read license plates much better than the old system, General Manager Jim Fetzer said.