CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A needle exchange program could launch in Charleston by the end of this year.

“We’re hoping to get this started around the middle of December,” said Michael Brumage, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department on Monday. “But that could change either earlier or later depending on how we’re able to get the logistics in place.”

The program, first introduced in Huntington then in Wheeling, was approved by Charleston City Council last week.

Brumage said the next step is to bring all their partners together in order to execute the program as part of a larger harm reduction program that offers recovery services.

“We’re looking, initially, to roll out our program in Charleston similar to what they’ve done in Huntington,” he said.

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department offers one-day-a-week sessions where addicts can come in, drop off their dirty needles in exchange for clean ones and offers any additional help or tests.

Brumage said they want residents to know that handing clean needles to drug addicts is not a bad thing.

“This is a studied question and there are over 150 programs across the United States. There just is no evidence that this enables drug use,” he said.

The program provides education and treatment resources to make clean needles more readily available to addicts, along with efforts to stop the spread of infectious diseases, like hepatitis B and hepatitis C, by giving them points of contact within the health department.

“This is not just about exchanging needles,” said Bruamge. “It’s also about offering health services to the addict, so that we can treat their addiction, hopefully. We get dirty needles off the street and that not only reduces the harm to the addict, but also to the community at large.”

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department would be the third health department to launch a syringe exchange program in West Virginia.

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