City of Charleston to debate efficacy of needle exchange programs

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — After an investigation of Solutions Oriented Addiction Response (SOAR) by the Charleston Police Department concluded no laws were broken by the non-profit, the City of Charleston is now looking to create their own policy on harm reduction programs.

Proponents of harm reduction programs say they aim to curb the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis by providing free, clean needles for intravenous drug use.

Its critics say it enables drug use.

The City of Charleston recently introduced a resolution to begin the discussion on the efficacy of programs like these which have had a longtime polarizing effect.

“I’m hoping that as a council we can come together, listen to the experts, listen to the community, and have a respectful discussion for a path forward,” said Charleston councilwoman Caitlin Collins.

“I would not want to go through this quickly without hearing from our first responders, refuse workers, sanitary folks, I think this is something, the nature of it demands due diligence,” said Collins.

The resolution reads: “The city’s first responder community, namely police, and fire have not been fully informed of the status of this issue that affects their daily work lives, likewise other city employees directly impacted by this issue such as sanitation and refuse workers likewise do not appear to have been fully apprised of the status of this current debate.”

Some of the issues are needle litter and needle stick injuries.

But supporters of harm reduction programs like SOAR say it’s more than just needles they provide.

“All people know about are about the needles and even though a small part of what they do does involve safe needle disposal and safe needle-exchange that is nowhere close to the majority of what they do,” said Angi Kerns, who is in long-term recovery.

Kerns says the state doesn’t have enough resources or recovery programs to help drug addicts.

“Without all of those resources in place, it doesn’t make sense to try to blame an addict for struggling while criminalizing one of the only points of resource that’s actually accessible to most people,” said Kerns.

The resolution will be heard by the Public Safety Committee on February 5th.

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