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Huntington officials and residents respond to needle exchange program controversy

The needle exchange program in Charleston is under fire by the city's mayor and police chief, but in Huntington, city officials seem to be backing the program and the effects it's had on the city. (WCHS/WVAH)

The needle exchange program in Charleston is under fire by the city's mayor and police chief, but in Huntington, city officials seem to be backing the program and the effects it's had on the city.

Some people said the program is doing more harm than good to the city.

"I understand that there's a preventative measure from HIV, transferring the disease of Hepatitis and all these other things, but at the same time when you're living and you're walking and you're seeing needles on porches and needles on alleys and just thrown all out on the streets that's a concern to me," Fairfield West Community President Robin Lapsley said.

Rocky Meadows, the founder of the long-term recovery center, The Lifehouse, thinks the program is needed.

"We're keeping these people safe," Meadows said. "If we didn't give them these needles, they're going to shoot up anyways and we're just going to be spreading disease after disease and it's so bad, so we're keeping them safer and our community safer."

While some Charleston officials are taking a tough stance against the program, the City of Huntington, Cabell-Huntington Health Department and Cabell County EMS released this joint statement:

“The comprehensive plans that our community put in place three years ago to address this nationwide epidemic are beginning to show positive trends. It is a multifaceted issue, and the Harm Reduction Program administered by the Cabell-Huntington Health Department addresses both the prevention of communicable disease as well as leading individuals into recovery."

Meadows thinks the program isn't causing harm to others but people are.

"I think if someone were to stick an officer with a needle they would stick them with the needle that they got from there or their dirty needle," Meadows said. "It's going to happen anyways and people are sick and bad they'll do things anyway."

A tale of two cities, each dealing with the devastating effects of the heroin problem.

"I love you enough that you're going into some treatment program," Lapsley said. "If it takes you a year, two years, three years, that's tough love. That's what I call helping these addicts."

Later this month in Charleston, Charleston City Council will be voting on whether or not to make needles illegal in the city again, which would essentially end the needle exchange program at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

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