WHEELING, W.Va. — The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department has distributed 2,350 free syringes to more than 160 people in the first year of its needle exchange program.
Administrator Howard Gamble told the county health board Tuesday, “We are getting more (used) needles than we give out.”
Under conditions of the exchange, he said, “We can give only 21 needles at a time.” In addition to accepting syringes from users, the public health clinic receives discarded needles that police officers find on the streets.
Gamble said 118 males and 43 females have participated in the needle exchange program since its inception.
“We have some regulars, and we have some new ones,” he said.
“There are still some individuals who are shy or apprehensive that we’re going to arrest them. That’s not the case.”
Eight people have asked for help and have been referred to Northwood Health System for substance abuse treatment and/or counseling, he said. One person was referred for additional testing for HIV.
Dr. John Holloway, board chairman, said, “It’s a terrific thing that the department is doing. I assume that when people get more comfortable, they will be more willing” to participate.
“It doesn’t cost a lot for us to do it,” Gamble said, adding that needle exchange programs in Cabell and Kanawha counties in West Virginia are more expensive to operate because they have more staff and a lot more volume.
The programs in Ohio, Cabell and Kanawha counties are the only public health-related needle exchange programs in West Virginia, Gamble said.
A loosely run program exists in Morgantown, but it is not affiliated with the public health system.
Meanwhile, Gamble said the department’s supply of pre-filled naloxone syringes, donated by Wheeling Hospital, is running low, so he is checking costs for supplies of the drug that is used to reverse opioid overdoses.
He said pre-filled syringes and nasal spray kits — such as those used in Hancock County — each cost about $70.
Ohio County Sheriff’s Department and Wheeling Fire Department personnel and other paramedics keep naloxone on hand, but Wheeling police officers don’t carry the drug, Gamble said.
The health department has a contract with the sheriff’s department to resupply it with the drug.