HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s first-of-its-kind syringe exchange program will launch Wednesday in Huntington and Cabell County.
“The community has recognized a need and demand of this service for some time and we’re just excited to be able to offer it,” said Michael Kilkenny, the physician director for the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.
The pilot project will involve education and treatment resources to make clean needles more readily available. There will also be efforts to stop the spread of infectious diseases, like hepatitis B and hepatitis C, by giving addicts points of contact within the health department.
On Tuesday, health officials introduced a Harm Reduction Program that offers additional services during the same time of the exchanges.
“We will be able to offer them an interview with an addiction recovery coach or we’re going to have a community engagement specialist,” Kilkenny told MetroNews on Tuesday.
The community engagement specialist can help an addict with signing up for programs, insurance, housing and what kind of resources may be available to them to improve his or her living conditions.
Kilkenny said they are also offering hepatitis and HIV testing, so patients can know their status.
“If they have concerns about sexually transmitted diseases, we will be able to address what they would need to do to get those things tested here or if they have a particular illness at the time that they come, we may be able to address that also,” he said.
Health officials have said the hope in the next two years is for West Virginia to no longer lead the nation in hepatitis C cases.
“It’s vitally important that we be able to reduce the spread of those diseases, but more than that, we want to address the root cause — which is addiction,” Kilkenny said.
A recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found hepatitis C cases across four Appalachian states – West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia – more than tripled between 2006 and 2012.
In 2012, West Virginia had the second highest rate of hepatitis C in the entire United States, according to the CDC.
Already this year, more than 200 drug overdoses have been reported in Cabell County and many of those overdoses have involved heroin. Overdoses have killed at least two dozen people, city and county officials had said.
“The addiction is what we’d really like to get treated and cured or at least get people into recovery, so that they can stop using IV drugs and get on with their lives,” Kilkenny said. “That’s what our ultimate goal is.”
In July, the state Department of Health and Human Resources put $20,000 into the program. Half the funds went to the program itself and the other half went toward technical support for the syringe exchanges, or SEP, designed to reduce illnesses and infections.