State health bureau to evaluate Kanawha County harm reduction program

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resource’s Bureau for Public Health will evaluate the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s harm reduction program following a request by Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and health department Interim Health officer Dominic Gaziano.

Jones, who hosts “580 Live” on MetroNews affiliate WCHS-AM, requested the action in a letter dated March 22 after weeks of voicing concerns over the needle exchange portion of the program. Jones, as well as law enforcement and city officials, have said the needle exchange has led to a growth of needles left in public places, posing a public health risk.

“Our goal as it relates to this evaluation is to use the information gathered by epidemiologists to further enhance harm reduction efforts across West Virginia to help save lives, reduce the spread of infectious disease, and enable persons who are living with addiction to get the treatment and rehabilitation they need to be able to return to the workforce,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and bureau commissioner.

According to a press release, the Bureau for Public Health invested $600,000 in federal funding to support harm reduction efforts at 11 facilities in West Virginia.

Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch says an effective harm reduction program can simultaneously protect the public and address concerns of law enforcement.

“The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources strongly supports harm reduction programs in West Virginia as they reduce the likelihood of transmission of blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV,” he added. “DHHR supports communities that choose to offer harm reduction clinics coupled with a substance use treatment program.”

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department suspended the needle exchange amid continuing criticism of needles left in public places. Other efforts of the harm reduction program include disease testing and birth control.

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