CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston Police Chief Steve Cooper says the city is reviewing the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health meeting minutes from 2015 to see if the needle exchange program was ever approved in an actual vote.
City Fire Chief Robert Sutler and Mayor Danny Jones’ secretary went through meeting minutes from Aug. 2015 to Dec. 2015 when the needle exchange program started, Cooper said.
“They didn’t find anything in there about any discussion or vote at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s board to sanction that program,” he said.
Cooper was a guest on Tuesday’s “580 Live” hosted by Mayor Jones on MetroNews affiliate 580-WCHS.
The fire department and city attorney plan to look at the issue further.
On Monday, the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health suspended KCHD’s needle exchange program.
KCHD spokesman John Law said the DHHR’s order doesn’t change the status of the program.
“The board on March 28 suspended the program, so this is really nothing new to the program,” Law said.
The bureau sent a letter to KCHD stating the decision to suspend the program was based on its findings after an evaluation of the program. Those findings were outlined in a 62 page report.
“The board has the report and is reviewing it,” Law said.
The report cites the program’s 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.
From November 2017 to March 2018, only 34 percent of needle exchange participants visited the clinic in person to get needles, according to the report. The rest did not show up in person.
The KCHD Board of Health suspended needle exchanges in March after Charleston Police Chief Steve Cooper recommended new rules for the program.
City officials, including Mayor Danny Jones, have heavily criticized the program for the increase of used needles left in public places. They’ve said it creates a public safety concern.
Jones has said he’s going to try and postpone any attempt to restart the program.
There is no indication of when or if the program will be brought back. The KCHD board meets Thursday where the issue could be discussed.
“The program remains suspended and it will take some action to bring it back, so I think that’s where we are now,” Law said.