Grant will allow health department to expand needle exchange program

Published: Oct. 1, 2019 at 6:14 PM EDT
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The Harm Reduction Coalition through HepConnect is awarding more than $920,000 to six West Virginia-based organizations that are fighting the rise of hepatitis C (HCV) infections.

The program either provides tools or education to help combat the crisis. One of the organizations receiving funding is the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.

"We'll be able to help fund the purchase of syringes and we'll also be working programatically to develop linkages to care for people who have the disease," said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department has been in an uphill battle against HIV, with a cluster that now stands at 80 confirmed cases.

Officials say they are doing this because the numbers are increasing in West Virginia and could have been prevented with the right programs in place.

“Communities in regions like Appalachia, the Midwest, and the South are experiencing unprecedented outbreaks of HIV, hepatitis C, and overdoses from opioids,'' said Monique Tula, executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. “Without financial resources and legislative backing from state and federal governments, many of the hardest-hit communities in these regions are unable to adapt comprehensive programs in a harm reduction framework.

But the topic is a controversial one. Delegate John Mandt Jr., R-Cabell County, says he is not in favor of the program.

"I am not in favor of it," Mandt said. "We have called for an audit because we believe there is a breakdown in the syringe service program somewhere. We have gone from four cases to eighty since the program has started."

Here are the following organizations receiving grants in West Virginia:

  • Cabell-Huntington Health Department
  • Opioid Response Innovation Initiative
  • Milan Puskar Health Right/LIGHT Project
  • Queer Appalachia and Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition
  • Cabin Creek Health Systems