Huntington Mayor Steve Williams unveiled the state’s first syringe exchange program Thursday in an effort to reduce overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases.
“We’re not out to arrest people, we’re out to save people,” Williams said.
Health officials say needle sharing is fueling alarming disease statistics, like how West Virginia‘s rate of hepatitis B cases is 10.6 per 100,000 people, compared to the national rate of 0.9 percent.
“We’re number one in the nation for hepatitis B and number two for hepatitis C. That obviously tells you we’re in the middle of an epidemic,” said Matt Boggs, Director of Development for Recovery Point of Huntington.
The cost of recovering for is $100,000 per case of hepatitis B and C.
The epidemic can be in part be attributed to lack of education according to Tim White, Regional Prevention Coordinator for Prestera.
“I talked to one young lady and she said, ‘I’ve never ever shared my needle with anybody else, but I used over and over, and I got Hepatitis C,'” White said. “She said, ‘I bleached it, I swabbed it, but the simple fact I did it caused me to get Hepatitis C.'”
Health officials say HIV cases are definitely on the rise, though numbers are hard to pin down.
“IV drug abuse and shared needles spreads that diseases very rapidly,” said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s Physician Director.
Dr. Kilkenny says users participating in the syringe exchange will have access to all Department of Health and Human Resources programs, including treatment and health care. The DHHR announced $10,000 in funding for the program along with $10,000 in technical support to th CHHD.
The one year pilot program is expected to begin by the end of the summer.
Data from the program will be used determine if other West Virginia communities could benefit from a similar program.