Talk of a needle exchange program in Peoria is causing tension in the city. The plan supported by many, faces almost equal opposition.
Detweiller Marina Neighborhood Association held a meeting Wednesday night with the Jolt Foundation, to discuss the program that's coming to their part of Peoria.
The foundation is a local resource that addresses drug abuse. It was co-founded by Tamara Olt after her son died from a heroin overdose. Olt gave the presentation informing area residents of her plan to begin the clean needle exchange.
In her explanation, Olt detailed various opioid statistics, some of which included a report from the Centers for Disease Control stating the Midwest experienced the highest spike of opioid use than any other part of the country from 2016 to last year, at 70%.
It's a fact Olt said, demonstrates the need for a resource like the program in the river city.
Olt went on to describe the needle exchange program as a public health service, offering people a safe place to dispose of used needles and receive clean ones, cutting down on the spread of infectious diseases.
She and her colleagues also outlined that the program, located at 1411 NE Adams St. would offer free condoms to the public, along with free testing for sexually transmitted infections.
Supporters of the needle exchange noted that as a city, Peoria is great when it comes to pointing out problems, but never solutions, adding that this is finally an example of something being done to help mitigate the opioid crisis in the area.
Bryce Foster, a recovered opioid addict, said "I have a lot of friends that are still here, working a program, taking care of their kids. They're doing what they're supposed to be doing and if it wasn't for programs like this, they'd be dead."
But others at the meeting did not take kindly to the idea. One Detweiller Marina resident added "You bring this to our neighborhood and you're suffocating us. You're reinforcing a perception that exists there which is a bad perception. It's an incorrect , incomplete perception."
Other concerns emerged during the meeting that a primary school is 6 blocks from the program's location. Also, that it supports drug abuse, rather than prevents it.
Olt's response to those claims were that addicts are five times more likely to go into recovery if they have access to needle exchange programs. She further explained that drug counselors will be present to render services and the overall presence of citizens who want to prevent the spread of diseases and helps addicts, demonstrates a sense of community. She explained for drug addicts, that's often what they need at their lowest points.
Currently, the closest program of its kind can be found in Kankakee, followed by Springfield and Chicago, making this the only needle exchange program in the area.
This fact, caused Councilwoman Denise Moore to give her input after learning the program was not a proposal, but opening Saturday, March 10th from 10am-2pm.
Moore said she understands and supports the needle exchange program, but expressed disappointment in Olt for making the decision to open before consulting nearby neighborhood associations. Moore went on to say that District 1 is currently too fragile to allow drug abusers from all over Central Illinois to participate in the program.
As of now, the program will be run 100% by volunteers and will not be funded by the city, rather donations until Jolt Foundation secures additional funding.