CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper is criticizing a study on the suspension of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s needle exchange program.

Carper, appearing on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” attacked the report from Johns Hopkins University, which stated Charleston’s IV drug use population is using used syringes more often and is less likely to be tested for HIV. The report also noted these people have less access to naloxone, a drug used to treat an opioid overdose.

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Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper

“They interviewed IV drug users and asked them if they would like free needles. Well, that would be like going to a Mountaineer game and asking if you like cold beer,” he said. “Of course they said that. What do you expect them to say?”

The study was published Tuesday in Harm Reduction Journal, which publishes research on harm reduction efforts related to drug use and addiction. The results found the March 2018 suspension of the program resulted in an increased chance of getting bloodborne infections as well as overdosing.

The health department suspended the program following new rules that would have limited how needles could be distributed and who could participate in the program.

Then-Mayor Danny Jones, who hosts “580 Live” on WCHS-AM, led criticisms of the program, describing it as a “needle mill.” The issue was also a hot topic during last year’s mayoral race.

Carper, who originally supported the exchange, said health department leaders were not focused on efficiently running the program.

“They were advocates. They were interested in running around, getting awards and accolades and going on trips,” he said. “They’re hoping for some epidemic to come out so they can say, ‘See, we told you so.'”

Carper noted he approached the health department about the program following concerns from law enforcement.

“I went over there quietly to ask them to reform their program. I didn’t bash them in public like others did, and I regret that. I should have,” he said.

West Virginia Health Right continues to operate a needle exchange program as part of its harm reduction initiative. Carper said the program provides enough of a service for Charleston and surrounding communities.

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