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A Deep Dive Into Harm Reduction Programs This West Virginia Morning

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On this West Virginia Morning, since the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department closed its harm reduction program in 2018, diseases linked to the use of dirty needles have skyrocketed. We explore the impacts of closing that program.

On our most recent episode of Inside Appalachia, we look at how the ongoing opioid epidemic is affecting HIV numbers in the region. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified Charleston, West Virginia as “the most concerning outbreak of HIV related to injected drug use” in the nation. Charleston also does not have a syringe exchange program based at its local health department.

The CDC reported that there were 35 new HIV cases related to injected drug use last year in the city. For context, New York City, which has more than 100 times the population, had 36 cases in 2019. Here’s a conversation between Kyle Vass, who’s covered this issue for several years, and WVPB’s health reporter June Leffler.

The science behind harm reduction programs is unequivocal: these initiatives help save lives and prevent the spread of disease. Supporters say that needle exchange, especially when coupled with addiction treatment options, can help pull people out of their addictive behaviors and get them on a path to recovery.

But for harm reduction programs to be successful, most public health experts say the residents in the community must support the program. That’s where things fell apart in Charleston. We listen back to a story we originally aired in 2019...that looks at the fall out of Charleston’s needle exchange program. Here’s Kara Lofton.

West Virginia Morning is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting which is solely responsible for its content.

Support for our news bureaus comes from West Virginia University, Concord University, and Shepherd University.

Listen to West Virginia Morning weekdays at 7:43 a.m. on WVPB Radio or subscribe to the podcast and never miss an episode. #WVMorning