CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Capital City could soon be the latest in West Virginia to jump on-board with a needle exchange program after a meeting Wednesday night of the Charleston City Council Rules and Ordinance Committee.
A similar program to one that has initially seen success in Huntington and could be implemented in Wheeling this week will be discussed further before the next City Finance meeting on Monday.
“We have to rewrite the bill; we’ll have a committee substitute that will limit what the bill does,” said council President Tom Lane. “We’ll have a committee meeting before council so that it can be taken up at the next council meeting on Sept. 21.”
Lane explained that currently possession of needles is illegal in Charleston, but that would be repealed allowing for the health department to distribute free needles to heroin addicts. Lt. A.C. Napier with the Charleston Police Department thought the intiative is entirely necessary.
“We (West Virginia) lead the nation in the drug overdose death rate. The national average is 13 per 100,000 people and we’re at 33.5. We lead the nation in new cases Hepatitis B. The national average is 0.9 we’re at 10 per 100,000,” Napier said of the drug crisis. “We’re second in Hepatitis C. Each case costs $45,000 to $450,000 on the low end to treat.”
Critics of a needle exchange program maintain that such an initiative promotes drug use. Napier didn’t think that was a sound argument because addicts will inject heroin whether or not a needle is clean.
“These people that are on prescription pills and heroin which is the bigger problem we face, they don’t care if they have a clean needle,” Napier said. “They will pick up a dirty needle off the street and shove into their veins to get heroin. They don’t care if it’s clean or not.”
Lane pointed out that every city that has done a needle exchange program has seen a drop in diseases spread by needle sharing. Napier pointed out that Portsmouth, Ohio had seen half of residents who bought in dirty needles sought treatment and death overdose rates had dropped 30 percent.
“If they’re going to do it anyway with a dirty needle, which they are, that’s why we’re in the predicament we’re in, then I don’t think you’re enabling them. I think you’re addressing the health epidemic. I don’t want my officers out here getting stuck with needles, where Hepatitis lives for 63 days.”
City Council’s Ordinance and Rules Committee will meet again Monday at 6:15 p.m., prior to City Finance at 6:45 p.m.