CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s Harm Reduction Clinic, which includes the needle exchange, has been suspended, the state Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Public Health ordered Monday.
The bureau sent a letter to the health department stating the decision is based on findings following an evaluation of the clinic. Cited reasons include failure to build and maintain community support, lack of information about informing drug users of other programs, insufficient evidence to support the safe recovery and disposal of needles and insufficient evidence regarding the number and types of referrals made to drug treatment.
The health department suspended the needle exchange in March after new rules from Charleston Police Chief Steve Cooper that would have limited the types of needles allowed and who can participate in the needle exchange program.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and law enforcement officials have criticized the needle exchange program for an increase of needles left in public spaces. Charleston City Council is expected to vote May 21 on whether to make syringes for illegal drug use illegal, reversing a September 2015 law.
Jones said on Monday’s edition of WCHS-AM’s “580 Live” he may ask city council to delay a vote after reviewing the bureau’s 62-page report recommending the suspension.
“We’re thinking about 30, 60 days, but if they want to vote me down again, go ahead,” Jones said. “If I lose again, then I lose again, but I want to keep reminding the public what’s at stake here and I think this report shows it all.”
The report indicated that from November 2017 to March 2018, only 34 percent of needle exchange participants visited the clinic in person to get needles. Forty-six percent did not show up in person and 20 percent were labeled ‘unknown.’
“That’s enough,” Jones said. “That could be your whole report right there, but it’s not 62 pages, but you still have people on the other side, on the health department side that are fighting this.”
The report said there have been concerns in recent months about the operations of the health department and its effect on public safety due to reports of an increase in used needles found in public places.
Jones previously requested the state Department of Health and Human Resources review the local health department’s needle exchange program. His goal is to end the effort.
“I want to put the health department out of this business once and for all. It’s not what they’re there for. They’re not supposed to be involved in drug paraphernalia for illegal drugs,” he said.
Jones said he plans to work with police and fire officials to try to stop an attempt to restart needle exchanges at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.