By BISHOP NASH
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s harm reduction program received more money and a stamp of approval Tuesday.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources awarded a $600,000 grant toward the department’s harm reduction program, which includes the needle exchange aimed at helping people with addiction. The state agency also certified the county’s program through the state Bureau of Public Health by the newly installed standards meant to regulate similar programs as they develop across the state.
“It’s very important to have that validity as a government agency – to have a higher government agency recognize that your effort is valid,” said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, medical director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. “This has been, and still is, a gray area: It’s controversial and there are opponents.
The $600,000 grant was awarded to 10 other health care entities across the state, including the Kanawha-Charleston and Wyoming County health departments, as part of a greater $5.88 million grant provided to West Virginia through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. With the federal declaration of the opioid epidemic as a national health emergency so far meaning no additional federal funding, Kilkenny said the grants demonstrate West Virginia’s commitment to tackling its own problems from the state level.
The grant will allow health departments in Wyoming, Greenbrier and Hampshire counties to begin their own harm reduction programs.
Harm reduction programs are a “comprehensive set of public health strategies and interventions” structured to minimize harm and death among those suffering from addiction, explained Dr. Rahul Gupta, the state’s health officer and commissioner for Bureau for Public Health. The methods particularly target intravenous drug users – most notably through needle exchange programs, which provide sterile syringes and collect used syringes to reduce the transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis and other blood-borne infections associated with reusing tainted syringes.
The Cabell-Huntington Health Department has distributed about 800,000 needles since its program began in September 2015, according to department records. About 560,000 needles have been returned – a rate of about 70 percent.
In 2017, about 404,000 needles were given out between January and November, with around 260,000 needles returning – or about 64 percent.
About 3,800 unique patients have visited the needle exchange since September 2015, accounting for about 21,000 visits, an average of about six visits per patient.
About 40 percent of Cabell-Huntington needle exchange patients are diagnosed with Hepatitis C, records indicate, and about 5 percent are diagnosed with Hepatitis B. Less than 1 percent of patients are diagnosed with HIV.
“What this is about is saving lives until they can get healthy themselves,” Kilkenny said.
The Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s needle exchange program can be contacted at 304-523-6483.
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.
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