CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston Mayor Danny Jones is giving back to a needle exchange program he believes is working.
The mayor on Tuesday donated $5,000 of his own money he earned from his radio show to West Virginia Health Right in Charleston.
“I get $10 for a show, so I figured the amount I net for the time I’ll be there is going to be $5,000 and that $5,000 if yours,” Jones told Health Right CEO and Executive Director Angie Settle during a tour of the building.
Jones is the host of “580 Live” on MetroNews affiliate 580-WCHS.
The money will be put toward Health Right’s needle exchange program.
Jones’ donation comes a day after the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department suspended its needle exchange portion of its harm reduction program. Jones said he hopes the program shuts down for good.
“I hope the health department keeps their needle exchange closed down. I think anything else for a city of our size is disproportionate to try to deal with this very terrible problem, which has affected my family,” he said. “We’ll do anything to facilitate. We just want to stop it.”
Settle said her staff is ready to potentially serve hundreds of additional needle exchange patients now that the KCHD program is suspended.
“We have 25,392 patients, so I’m pretty confident we can handle another 300 a week,” she said.
Health Right has been operating its needle exchange program since 2011.
Settle said the program has been under the radar for so many years because they have not had any issues with used needles ending up on city streets. She said since the program’s inception, one dirty needle was found behind its East End facility, but that it’s unknown if the needle came from Health Right’s program.
At KCHD, nearly 250,000 out of the 600,000 needles handed out since the program’s start in 2015 have been unaccounted for.
“I always like to say the best harm reduction program, in my opinion, is one that’s right under your nose. It’s operating and no body knows about it,” Settle said. “It’s helping the people that need help and it’s not interfering with the city or causing any kind of issues there.”
City officials, including Mayor Jones and Police Chief Steve Cooper, have expressed concern over finding dirty needles all around the city. Cooper introduced new rules for the health department Monday before the KCHD Board of Health announced the suspension.
At Health Right, patients must show up in person and provide identification to exchange needles. KCHD recently put the same policy in place. People at the health department used to be able to pick up needles for other patients.
The Health Right program runs on a 1-to-1 exchange. Patients are handed 30 clean needles and are required to return the 30 needles during their next visit.
Before a patient can begin the program, he or she must be tested for infectious diseases like HIV or hepatitis C. It’s also required for he or she to meet with a social worker and physiologist to discuss rehab options.
“Our philosophy is if you’re not in the building and I’m not looking at you in the eye and I’m not able to talk to you about rehab, that’s a missed opportunity of the program, so that won’t be happening,” Settle said.
Settle said 1 out 3 patients in their harm reduction program enter drug treatment.
Patients can visit the clinic Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to get clean needles.
West Virginia Health Right receives about 30 percent of its funds from the state. All other money is raised through fundraisers or through individual contributors.
Editor’s note: Mayor Danny Jones’ donation is not a direct contribution from MetroNews.