Community agency urges public to break stigma over harm reduction programs

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PRINCETON, WV (WVNS) — West Virginia sees more than 1,000 drug related overdose deaths each year according to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Drug usage and alcohol abuse runs rampant through the two Virginias. Multiple agencies are teaming up to educate, help, and treat people not only in active addiction, but in the community to break the stigma.

Jamie Styons is a Prevention Enhancement Project Director for Community Connections. He said education is the most used tool in Mercer County.

“Harm reduction, when most people think about it they think specifically of needle exchange. Harm reduction itself is so much more than that. In our region, the biggest part of harm reduction is education. Both for the families involved with it, the community for anti-stigma and any kind of education for getting treatment, recovery and preventative services,” said Styons.

He said there are misunderstandings about what harm reduction programs actually do.

“The needle stigma is that we’re giving people the tools to actually go use. If someone is going to use, they’re going to use drugs, it does not matter. What the needle exchange program is, is to help prevent and limit infectious disease in our area. We have a very high HIV rate, Hepatitis rate, these are areas that we can help with significantly by reducing that area,” said Styons.

Styons said with the introduction of Fentanyl into drugs, overdose deaths skyrocketed, and more Narcan kits are given out. He urges the community to educate themselves about these topics instead of judging. He said a little bit of education can go a long way.

“Most people that pass away aren’t in active use. It is a collateral bystander that got exposed to it accidentally. And that’s why we do Narcan drives, that’s why we give education to everybody because it’s non-judgmental, it’s stigma free and our goal is to save lives not judge people,” said Styons.

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