The Lewis County Health Department celebrated one year of its Harm Reduction Program on Sept. 6. The program kicked off after research into other similar programs and the results of the CDC’s study of “Vulnerability to Rapid Dissemination of HIV/HBV Infections Among Person’s Who Inject Drugs”.
This study revealed the top 220 counties in the United States that could follow the same outbreak pattern of HIV and Hepatitis as Scott, Indiana. Of the top 220 counties, 28 of those counties were in West Virginia.
WV is number one with Hepatitis B and number two with Hepatitis C in all of the US. With these statistics and the 28 counties stopping just before Lewis County, the LC Health Department decided to take a proactive approach and start the Harm Reduction Program.
By the one-year celebration they have had 94 participants come through the program. The participants are screened for Hepatitis B and C, HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. The health department has a recovery coach on site at the clinics that assists getting the participants into treatment. Referrals are also made if the participant needs a primary care physician, mental health provider, housing, food, or whatever their need may be.
“It takes a lot of courage for the participants to come into our Harm Reduction Clinics. To me, it’s the first step in admitting they have a problem,” said Crystal Lough, an RN for the Lewis County Health Department.
“I treat every patient I see, no matter what program they are coming in for, the same with dignity and grace. I meet the patients where they are at in their life and we go from there,” she continued.
The Health Department partnered with The Friends of Auxiliary of William R Sharpe Jr Hospital and the Lewis County Family Resource Network (FRN). The Auxiliary provides blessing buckets for the participants which contain basic hygiene items. The Lewis County FRN provides adult snack packs, along with accepting referrals to the food pantry and other resources.
Since March, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health has reported an increase in the number of confirmed cases of acute hepatitis A virus. This increase has primarily been among injection and non-injection drug users, homeless, and those who have been recently incarcerated. The Health Department has vaccinations available for Hepatitis A, whether you are insured or not. Hepatitis A can live on surfaces for weeks, and the best protection is vaccination. One dose of Hepatitis A vaccination will stop an outbreak, with the second dose providing life long immunity.
“The Lewis County Health Department will continue to take a proactive approach on preventing Hepatitis in Lewis County,” David Whittaker, the administrator for LCHS, said.
The food for the reception was provided by the staff of the Lewis County Health Department because they feel so strongly about how this program has helped the participants.