PRINCETON, W.Va. — Exchanging syringes with drug addicts might seem like a way to prolong their addictions, but local health agencies have been using these exchanges as a way to contact addicts, let them know about the services available to them and guide them out of the addiction cycle.
Gov. Jim Justice recently signed a law which places stricter requirements on needle exchange programs. The Mercer County Health Department has been offering a “one for one” needle exchange, providing clean needles to addicts in order to prevent the spread of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV, according to Roger Topping, the health department’s administrator. In October 2020, Southern Highlands Mental Health Center came on board to provide counseling to those who ask for it.
Health care providers have been concerned that the tighter restrictions will cripple some needle exchange programs and end others. Mercer County is listed by the CDC as a potential outbreak county for HIV while other counties are now experiencing HIV outbreaks.
Mercer County’s program allows Southern Highlands to meet addicts and help guide them services. Matthew Huffman, division director of substance abuse disorder services, currently oversees the Southern Highlands services…