CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Needle exchange programs, also known as harm reduction or syringe services programs, are not fully gone in Kanawha County.
On Thursday, Kanawha County Commissioners voted to keep a longtime syringe exchange program going.
Because of a law change this last legislative session requiring any syringe services program to be licensed by the state’s Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification, OHFLAC, the needle exchange program at West Virginia Health Right needed a letter of support from the Kanawha County Commission.
“West Virginia Health Right has the oldest syringe services program, it started in 2011,” said Dr. Angie Settle, West Virginia Health Right’s CEO.
“If you don’t give us the letter of support, we would not qualify to become certified with the state and then our program will close,” said Settle to the commissioners.
Settle says they have a 98% needle return rate, and each syringe has an industrial adhesive barcode on it that helps them keep track of the patient and clinic.
She said offering clean needles to an addict is a big component to getting them in the door and eventually into treatment.
About 34% go on into treatment she said.
Addressing concerns of needle litter, commissioner Lance Wheeler commended Health Right’s tracking methods after he says a concerned citizen told him about a needle she had found on the street.
“I immediately contacted Health Right and Dr. Settle, she had her team there on the scene, properly dispose of the needle and was able to identify due to the barcode it was not from Health Right,” he said.
Commissioner Ben Salango pointed out that he had read the lifetime cost of treating someone with HIV is upwards of $400,000.
“This is a way not just to help those people get recovery, but you’re trying to prevent the spread of HIV, and save lives, and save money,” said Salango.
Ultimately the commissioners voted unanimously to grant their support.
There was no public comment or objection prior to the vote.
Settle declined to be interviewed after the public hearing.