LOGAN - The Logan County Commission during its regular session on Monday voted to adopt a resolution - but not an ordinance - opposing the opening of needle exchanges within the county's borders.
The move comes nearly two months after the issue of a needle exchange was brought to commission by Chris Trent, a victim's services advocate at the Logan County Sheriff's Department. During that meeting, Trent suggested that an ordinance banning such exchanges be enacted. The commission agreed and asked attorney Stephanie Abraham to begin drafting one.
On Monday, however, what Abraham brought was not an ordinance, but a resolution that opposes the "creation, establishment or operation of a needle exchange program within Logan County." In its text, the resolution refers to needle exchanges as a public health hazard and says that exchanges in Logan County would further endanger communities and sacrifice the safety of residents and public employees, all while putting the county in a position of financial and legal liability.
The resolution concludes that any entity that would want to establish or operate a needle exchange program in Logan County must publicly approach the Logan County Commission to "thoroughly justify and seek commission approval" for such a program.
After Abraham concluded her review of the resolution's text, commissioner Willie Akers immediately made a motion to adopt the resolution. Commissioner Danny Ellis, however, did not act as swiftly.
Ellis said he disagreed with a resolution because an ordinance would be a more effective measure since it carries the weight of the law. He also expressed concern over possible legal ramifications, which resulted in a back-and-forth between he and Abraham.
"If we adopt a resolution today and somebody on out in the future decides to bring a needle exchange into Logan County, we would have to challenge that, because a resolution is not necessarily going to stop that," Ellis said. "If we adopt a resolution, we would have to challenge any action in court, and just the opposite with an ordinance. If we adopt an ordinance, it basically would put that party in a situation where they've got to challenge our ordinance."
"No, not necessarily," Abraham replied, "because any entity that had an interest in conducting such a program here in Logan County would have to go through those steps."
"You just said an ordinance has the force and effect of a law, so why would they not challenge our ordinance if we adopted it?" Ellis responded.
Abraham said that she believes that, in practical terms, the resolution should have a similar effect to an ordinance in that a needle exchange entity would be deterred by starting up a program due to the steps would have to take. Akers then reaffirmed his support for a resolution as well, stating that it's the best route because of all the laws against drugs and needles already on the books.
Commission President Danny Godby seconded Akers' opinion.
Chris Trent said he doesn't believe the resolution "has any teeth."
"You've outlined in that resolution very strongly worded language saying how bad a needle exchange is," Trent said. "You're saying it's terrible, so why not - instead of proclaiming it in a proclamation, ordain it in an ordinance and make it a law and make it more difficult for someone to start up a program?"
Abraham responded that when almost every institution, such as the county commission, drug court and the Logan County Health Department, have said they have no plans to start a needle exchange in the county, an ordinance is not necessary. Trent said a Freedom of Information Act request of a harm-reduction grant application made by the Health Department in 2017 proves contrary.
That grant application states that a harm-reduction center will be operated at the county's emergency satellite center at the old 84 Lumber location at Peach Creek and would provide numerous services to citizens, including exchanging used/contaminated needles for sterile needles. During the May 20 meeting of the commission, Logan County Health Department Administrator Steve Browning insisted the department is not in support of a needle exchange and said the grant application was "haphazardly" put together and had to include such language in order to even be considered.
The department, ultimately, was not awarded the grant.
In an interview with The Logan Banner Monday evening, Browning again affirmed what he said previously.
"As I explained before, we don't have any intentions of doing a needle exchange program, and Chris keeps bringing up the fact that we applied for a grant that had that in it. That's true we did, but if we didn't apply for that grant, we would not be considered for any future grants coming through," Browning said. "If you don't put your best foot forward, you don't have a shot at getting a grant, so we basically scored about a 35 out of 100, and that's all we wanted to do.
"We're not going to argue or fight with the Sheriff's Department or the county commission," he added. "Chris is using us for some platform that he wants, and the health department has no issues. All we're here to do is to provide a service for Logan County, and he wants to use a platform and maybe do something for something else, but it's not us. We're not interested in it; we don't have any plans for it. Whatever his issues are are not with the health department, but he continues to try to bring us into that and, for whatever reason, he can't seem to understand that we applied for a grant that we had to apply for to check a box so we would not be disregarded for other future grants."