HUNTINGTON, W.Va (WOWK) – There are 76 confirmed cases of HIV cases in Cabell County since January. The Cabell Huntington Health Department hosted a community forum Tuesday evening to address the issue and any questions and concerns the public has.
The hottest topic at the forum was the harm-reduction program, or needle exchange program, the department offers.
Cabell County resident Mary Dean has lived in Huntington all her life and she wanted to address everyone at the forum.
It’s everywhere; it is everywhere,” Dean said. “Why is there so much? Well, we’re doing an excellent job from what my research tells me.”
Dean says she found three syringes in her yard and was struck by one a few years ago. She said that’s when she decided to do something about it. She made a makeshift garbage can with a dolly and started picking up the needles she found in her neighborhood.
“It’s not about me and mine,” Dean said. “It’s about all of us fighting together for the least of people.”
There were questions about the number of needles being found in the county. According to Michelle Perdue who runs the harm-reduction program at the health department, fewer syringes are being taken in and given out. Perdue says there are fewer people injecting drugs this year compared to last.
“They’re not all going to come here and they don’t need to, ” Perdue said. “There are 391 harm-reduction programs in North America.”
The health department also said those who are part of the needle exchange program have Cabell County addresses, squashing the myth that people from out-of-state are coming here for the program. As far as the needle exchange program being a link to the uptick in HIV cases, Dr. Michael Kilkenny who is the physician director of the health department, says that is also a myth.
“We are not the cause of this,” Dr. Kilkenny said. “We are one piece of the solution.”
It’s a problem, but one that comes with a solution. Steps have already been taken by the health department and it’s being recognized nationwide as an example for other cities with the same problem.
Mary Dean says the health department and the community can fix the problem together.
“Five years ago where I was with being so angry, and what they are doing is right,” Dean said. “We have to all pull together instead of being little pockets of people filled with hate and anger like I was.”
One of the proven ways to help people is by reducing the stigma. Dr. Amanda Coleman who runs Harmony House, a day-shelter for those in need, says minimizing the stigma associated with getting help with substance use disorder and I-V drug use, is a huge way the entire community can help.
There is another community forum open to the public at Christ Temple Church in Huntington Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m.