CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The goal of the West Virginia Drug Intervention Institute, Inc. is to reduce the number of opioid deaths in the Mountain State. Usually they are out in the community with education outreach, but now they are asking for the public’s health with a new survey.
On January 8th, WVDII launched a project designed to access community opinions on substance use disorders, harm reduction, and syringe exchange programs.
The study can be accessed through the institute’s website. It’s online and anonymous. However, those who are interested can leave their name and participate in small focus group discussions at a later date. The survey is open to West Virginia residents only through January 22nd.
Dr. Susan Bissett, president of WVDII, says West Virginia has the highest fatal drug overdose rates in the nation. She also pointed to the fact the the number of both fatal and non-fatal overdoses in Kanawha County have risen since the pandemic began, citing numbers from the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy.
“We have also seen an increase in HIV cases in the county,” explained Bissett. “One way to prevent the spread of infectious disease and decrease overdose deaths is through the implementation and operation of harm reduction programs.”
Currently, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources recognizes 18 harm reduction programs throughout the state, many of which include needle exchange programs which can be a polarizing topic in the city of Charleston and Kanawha County. Just last year a child was pricked by a needle outside of WV Health Right. Charleston Police are still investigating a group handing out health kits without the proper authority to do so.
“It is a difficult conversation and I think it’s always one side or the other. And I think there probably is some middle ground there,” said Bissett.
She added, “You can’t do it without community support, and so you have to determine where the level of community support is at and see if you are able to meet in the middle somewhere. Because having something is better than having nothing at all.”
There will also be small group discussions for those interested. The online survey is available until Jan. 22.