CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The former executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department says more used needles are ending up on city streets because the drug problem is getting worse.
Dr. Michael Brumage defended the department’s needle exchange program Tuesday on MetroNews “Talkline” after Charleston Mayor Danny Jones proposed an ordinance to City Council that would end the program.
“The major problem here is not the syringe service program, it’s the fact that we have an exploding injection drug-use epidemic in our state,” said Brumage, who now serves as the director of the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Office of Drug Control Policy.
The mayor, city police and firefighers say dirty needles are winding up all over the city and are drawing a criminal element into town.
Charleston Fire Department Lt. Allen Holder previously told MetroNews the department gives patients 30 needles each. Brumage said, while this is true, patients need to be trusted to carry that many syringes.
“They’ll get up to 30 per visit, but if they don’t show up with their syringes or they do not have the number of syringes that they were expected to bring back, then they will be cut back to 10 syringes and they have to work our trust back up to the full 30,” Brumage said. “There is a sort of punishment for them not returning the number of syringes. That is one way we are able to hold them accountable.”
The department, Brumage said, offers users clean needles to reduce the chance of spreading diseases like hepatitis or AIDS. He said if the program were to be eliminated, people would share syringes more often and possibly get sick.
Since the program’s inception in Dec. 2015, the department has handed out nearly 600,000 clean needles. Brumage said there has been a decline of five cases of hepatitis C in the time since then.
“In terms of cost of treatment, that’s $100,000 per case. That’s $500,000 less that we would’ve spent treating those cases if we had not had the program,” he said.
In addition to providing people with clean syringes, Brumage said the program also gives addicts a point of contact for drug recovery.
“There’s no reason that these people seek medical care until they have a medical emergency,” he said. “We’ve been able to bring these people in to give them all kinds of other care.”
KCHD has been able to get more than 100 people into drug recovery since the start of the program, Brumage said.
A needle clean up event is scheduled for this Saturday at 8 a.m. Volunteers with the Kanawha Communities That Care plan to gather at the Plaza East parking lot on Morris Street across from Appalachian Power Park.