CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health is asking independent health care organizations to review a report calling for the suspension of its needle exchange programs, less than a week after city officials learned of the findings.
Board members met Thursday at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s office, where they discussed the report’s findings.
The state Bureau of Public Health released the 62-page report to city officials on May 11, in which the agency recommending suspending the certification for the needle exchange program.
The reported cited concerns such as incomplete data collection and the inability to link patients to services for tracking purposes.
“Just reading over it, I picked up on some inaccuracies and some things that were concerns because there seemed to be some misunderstandings,” said Brenda Isaac, president of the health board. “I had people calling me from national coalitions that have been working with harm reduction syringe exchange programs for a decade or more, and they were concerned about some things in the report and suggested that they have them review it.”
Isaac said three organizations — including one associated with West Virginia University — are reviewing the analysis and the validity of the bureau’s concerns.
“The people that were here were here for just a few days looking over records,” she said. “One thing in the report says there was not a steering committee, and they never asked about a steering committee. And we have minutes from regular steering committee meetings and there was a steering committee made up of community members.”
Isaac said the issues could have been corrected if they were provided a preliminary report, which did not happen.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting the results quite as quickly as they came,” she said.
The health department suspended the needle exchange in late March after Charleston Police Chief Steve Cooper issued new rules limiting the types of needles allowed as well as who can participate in the program.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones requested an audit of the program. The mayor has been a vocal opponent of the program, saying on Monday’s “580 Live” on WCHS-AM he wanted 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 added.
Charleston City Council is expected to vote Monday on a bill to recriminalize hypodermic needles and syringes for the use of illegal drugs. The body at its March 19 meeting delayed a vote on the measure for 60 days.