UPDATE | West Virginia DHHR will not audit Cabell County's needle exchange program

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CABELL COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 8/6/19 @ 1:05 p.m.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources will not move forward with an audit of Cabell County's needle exchange program.

Cabell County Commissioner Kelli Sobonya has requested an audit of the county's needle exchange program.

Cabell County Commissioner Kelli Sobonya requested the audit in June.

A state DHHR spokesperson told WSAZ Tuesday, "the consensus was that an audit was not necessary."

Dr. Cathy Slemp, state health officer and commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, said in part, "The focus of program audits is typically on fiscal accountability and quality improvement. With greater mutual understanding, it became clear that an audit of the CHHD HRP would be of little benefit in addressing the concerns expressed."

The program is controversial to many. We reported in March that the Cabell County Health Department was seeing more needles coming in than going out.

Adler said there was a "productive meeting" and open discussion about the program on July 23. The meeting included several DHHR representatives and Commissioner Sobonya as well as Delegates John Mandt (R-Cabell, 16), Matthew Rohrbach (R-Cabell, 17), and Chad Lovejoy (D-Cabell, 17).

Here is Slemp's full statement:

"In order to assure they meet local needs and to foster community understanding, harm reduction programs (HRPs) are set up and operated under the authority of the organization managing the program, which in this case would be the Cabell County Board of Health with input from a local advisory board.

DHHR provides information, resources, and support to communities interested in providing HRPs. Well-run harm reduction services can be an exceedingly effective tool to address many aspects of our state’s substance use epidemic, including linkage to recovery services and decreased drug use, decreased infectious disease spread (e.g., hepatitis, endocarditis, HIV, and syphilis), and a reduction in overdose deaths. DHHR certifies HRPs as part of the funding application process to provide program guidance and to encourage use of evidence-based practices developed from 30 years of experience with HRPs in both urban and rural settings around the country. HRPs are encouraged to work with community partners to apply these practices in locally applicable ways. Community understanding and support is critical to HRP success.

DHHR leadership recently met with individuals requesting an audit of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s (CHHD) HRP and with other members of the Cabell County legislative delegation. A primary area of concern leading to the audit request related to restricted service access (e.g., residency requirements). This specific issue is an operational one established by the CHHD HRP last summer in collaboration with community partners to address broader community concerns.

The focus of program audits is typically on fiscal accountability and quality improvement. With greater mutual understanding, it became clear that an audit of the CHHD HRP would be of little benefit in addressing the concerns expressed.

Addressing the substance use disorder epidemic is complex, demanding, and often frustrating, as it will take decades, not years, to reverse. HRPs work by meeting people where they are and developing respectful, trusting relationships with individuals who are both at high risk and typically difficult to reach elsewhere in the community before a crisis happens (e.g., an ER visit, an arrest, a hospital admission, an overdose, etc.). In doing so, HRPs have the ability to help people move off drugs and into treatment and recovery as soon as possible, while reducing the spread of infectious diseases, community needle litter, and overdose deaths. In fact, between August 2018 and May 2019, more than 900 individuals have been referred for SUD treatment programs in West Virginia through harm reduction programs. Approximately one-third of those individuals were referred as a result of the Cabell-Huntington harm reduction program. At the same time, HRPs increase access to family planning and other preventive services."

In May, the health department reported an increase in HIV cases. The cluster is now up to 49 confirmed cases.

State officials say all of the cases were contracted by intravenous drug use through sharing of contaminated syringes. One of the goals of the needle exchange program is to cut down on the spread of diseases.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.

ORIGINAL STORY 6/11/19
Cabell County Commissioner Kelli Sobonya has requested an audit of the county's needle exchange program.

A spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources confirms the DHHR has received Sobonya's request and "it is under consideration."

The program is controversial to many. We reported in March that the Cabell County Health Department was seeing more needles coming in than going out.

In May, the health department reported an increase in HIV cases. The cluster is now up to 49 confirmed cases.

State officials say all of the cases were contracted by intravenous drug use through sharing of contaminated syringes. One of the goals of the needle exchange program is to cut down on the spread of diseases.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.