CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As members of the Charleston Police Department and other agencies argue to recriminalize the possession of needles and syringes for drug use, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department issued a change to its policy on how needles are distributed.
The health department has been under fire following an increased presence of needles in the Capital City, which is an issue Charleston Police Chief Steve Cooper said possesses a safety hazard for not only police officers, but other city employees and the public.
The health department announced Wednesday it has issued new guidelines regarding the pick up of syringes by users. Beginning Thursday, clients must be present in order to obtain syringes and must also present identification.
The Charleston City Council Finance Committee will consider a bill at its March 19 meeting to eliminate a provision authorizing the needle exchange program.
State Office of Drug Control Policy Director Dr. Michael Brumage told the committee Monday without the program, the rate of infectious diseases such as HIV would increase.
“If this goes away, people will die and things will get worse,” he later said to the full council.
Cooper said Wednesday’s change was too late.
“These needles are being used as booby traps. They’re all over the city,” he said.
According to Cooper, individuals bend needles to stick out of jackets and backpacks, increasing the chances of someone being pricked by a needle.
“This is not something that is just coming from the police department,” he added. “Every city department head stands in unison on this issue that we want needles recriminalized.”
Lt. David Hodges, director of EMS operations for the Charleston Fire Department, said dealing with needles is an everyday task for firefighters.
“Throughout the day, multiple times, our shift supervisors are going out to the public places — the schools, the parks, public bathrooms — and picking up syringes that have been abandoned there,” he said.
Cooper said he would not have an issue if the needle exchange was moved to a county property, but the legalization of the program and location of the health department’s office is too much of problem in downtown Charleston.
“You’re not going to find needles at Holz Elementary,” he said, referencing the South Hills school. “I don’t think we have any needles found at Holz Elementary. If they were being found at Holz Elementary, I wonder if there would be some different sentiments from some of the folks who are not grasping what we’re seeing.”
If the Finance Committee approves the bill, the full body could vote on the measure at its meeting later that day.