CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the Charleston City Council and health care organizations will take part in a roundtable discussion next week regarding harm reduction and needle exchange programs in the Capital City, but public safety officials will not be participating despite being invited.
Council President Tom Lane, R-at-Large, announced at the conclusion of Monday’s city council meeting that officials with health care organizations and 13 council members will hold a roundtable discussion April 24 at the Charleston Area Alliance office regarding the benefits and risks of needle exchange programs.
“Before council votes on it, I think council members wanted to get comfortable with voting one way or another,” he said.
Charleston City Council voted on March 19 to table a measure for 60 days that would have recriminalized needles for illegal drug use. The measure came after Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and public safety officials have criticized the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s needle exchange program for an increase of hypodermic needles in the city.
Charleston Police Chief Steve Cooper announced new regulations for the needle exchange on March 26, which would have limited the program to Kanawha County residents and mandated the use of retractable needles only.
The health department announced later that day it was suspending its needle exchange program because of a lack of time to adjust to the rules.
The West Virginia University School of Public of Health, Charleston Area Medical Center, West Virginia Health Right, Thomas Health and the health department are represented on the panel.
“It’s really just to get a mix, to get different perspectives on what the epidemic looks like, how the needle exchange program is justified, the kind of preventive issues that a needle exchange program addresses with hepatitis and HIV,” he said.
Lane said the council members participating are individuals who asked to be involved, as well as members whose wards are most affected by issues connected with the needle exchange.
The Charleston Police Department and Charleston Fire Department each have one listed representative on the panel, but according to Jones, they will not be participating in Tuesday’s meeting.
Jones, who hosts “580 Live” on MetroNews affiliate WCHS-AM, said during the city council meeting safety officials will be conducting their own meeting on the matter.
The mayor did not announce when the meeting would take place.
Lane said the spots for the police and fire department will remain open, adding it was disappointing to hear the mayor’s comments.
“As a city council, we have heard several presentations already from the police and fire (departments),” he said. “Our hope was that we would have both the public safety and the health care professionals all at a table where we could discuss it in a relaxed setting with the overall goal of educating council members on the pros and cons of the needle exchange program.”
A vote on the resolution affecting hypodermic needles will take place at the May 21 meeting.