A meeting was held for local health officials, elected officials, and first responders on Thursday, Aug. 24, at the Lewis County Emergency Medical Service building to discuss the Harm Reduction Program being put in place by the Lewis County Health Department.
The meeting featured a presentation by Crystal Lough, a registered nurse at the Lewis County Heath Department.
In the presentation, Lough defined harm reduction as, “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use.”
She also noted that the programs secondary goal is to steer participants toward recovery with a long-term goal of having a drug-free community.
The LC Health Department’s Harm Reduction Program, which will be funded by donations alone, with no taxpayer funding. It ill focus on reducing the risks of infectious disease related to needle-based addiction, by
allowing users to exchange used syringes for newer ones.
Lough cited statistics that stated that West Virginia was ranked first in Hepatitis B
levels in the nation, and second in Hepatitis C levels.
West Virginia also leads the nation in overdose death rates with 41.5 deaths per 100,000 and rates of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a syndrome that effects babies born addicted to drugs.
Lough also related a story about a town in Indiana with a population of 2,500 that experienced an outbreak of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in 2015, that was associated with the sharing and re-using dirty needles, cotton, and “cookers.” Lough stated that this particular outbreak took place in a rural population, a group that historically is at low risk for such an HIV outbreak.
Lough noted that this kind of outbreak can happen here. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted a study that pinpointed 220 counties nationwide as being vulnerable to rapid dissemination of HIV and other bloodborne infections among persons who inject drugs.
West Virginia has 28 counties among those 220. Lough stated that while Lewis County is not on that list two counties that border Lewis are: Braxton, and Webster.
Lough mentioned that bloodborne pathogens can survive for up to 63 days in the chamber of a needle, and 14 days on inanimate faces, such as cookers and injection surfaces.
Lough went on to reiterate that the program would operate on donations, and further mentioned that a coalition of similar programs is in process of forming to help apply for grants to help fund the programs.
The Harm Reduction Program will be offered weekly at the Health Department scheduled to begin on Sept. 7, on Thursdays, from 1-3 p.m., and the group hopes to offer a mobile off-site option in the future.
All participants will be handled anonymously. Dirty needles will be collected, and new needles and alcohol swabs will be given to each participant. Testing for Hepatitis B and C, HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia will also be available for participants.
Participants will also be made aware of rehabilitation and counseling services should they wish to participate.
Narcan, a drug used to reverse overdoses, training will be available as well with two doses of the drug provided.
Lough noted that Narcan was paid for through a grant, and would be given out on a participants first visit and only replaced in exchange for information regarding why it was used.
Lough briefly fielded questions after her presentation. County Commissioner Rod Wyman asked if other counties had similar programs and if the program would be open to only Lewis County residents.
Lough replied that Harrison, Marion, and Monongalia already have programs in place and that the program would be open to all who need it regardless of residence. Lough noted that some Lewis County residents were already participating in programs in other counties.
The Health Department is seeking both monetary and material donations for the program.
Among the items listed in a department social media posting were: sharps containers, alcohol wipes, paper grocery bags or black plastic bags, snack size or 2-by-2-inch Ziploc bags, band aids, bottled water, and snacks.