Bureau for Public Health suspends program that operated Kanawha needle exchange

The West Virginia Bureau of Public Health announces the suspension of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department's harm reduction program that operated the controversial needle exchange. (WCHS/WVAH)

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources' Bureau for Public Health has immediately suspended the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s harm reduction program that operates the controversial needle exchange program.

Its decision was announced in a letter dated Monday and submitted to Dr. Dominic Gaziano, interim health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. The suspension follows a scathing report from state officials about the harm reduction program.

Kanawha County’s needle exchange program already was temporarily halted by the county health department after a storm of controversy when Charleston police and Mayor Danny Jones complained about thousands of discarded needles being left in public places, posing what they believed was a danger to first responders and community members.

The letter said the suspension of the program is based on a number of factors including failure to maintain community support for the harm reduction program from key stakeholders such as first responders and businesses most affected by the exchange’s site location; lack of data indicating injection drug users were consistently and routinely informed of other harm reduction services; insufficient process monitoring and insufficient evidence to support the safe recovery and disposal of used syringes and sharps waste from program participants; and failure to develop a community relations plan that “records adverse incidents and concerns of local law enforcement officials, community members and neighborhood associations.”

Following is the letter to the health department, announcing the suspension:

Meanwhile, West Virginia Health Right operates a separate needle exchange program that is not part of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department's program. Jones has endorsed Health Right's needle exchange.

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