On July 9, Buckhannon City Councilman Robbie Skinner chose to be interviewed on the radio by the mayor of Charleston, W.Va., Danny Jones, who has a regular talk show on a local radio station. The topic was the needle exchange program in Upshur County. (Feel free to Google and hear the complete interview.) The comments from Councilman Skinner were not only incorrect but also did not provide complete information.
That very same week the Buckhannon-Upshur County Board of Health held a public meeting and identified concerns from our citizens about the needle exchange program. Those concerns are currently being discussed with the provider of the program, Mylan Puskar Health Right out of Morgantown. Those concerns will hopefully be resolved in the near future. The incorrect and incomplete information from the radio interview is what needs to be corrected at this time.
The Buckhannon-Upshur County Health Department Board is comprised of a local physician, a physical therapist, a physician assistant, a respiratory therapist and two nonmedical persons. In 2017 that board began gathering information about starting a needle exchange program to guard against the spread of HIV and hepatitis, but also to help IV drug abusers to get the help they need to regain their lives without addiction. This is where the first incorrect statement occurs in the radio interview. We did look at the Charleston Health Department program, but definitely not as a model. The conclusion the board got from this observation was that we felt that no health department in the state of West Virginia should be doing a needle exchange program. With all the state budget cuts the health departments do not have the resources, nor the expertise, to adequately run these programs to be successful.
Yes, these programs are designed to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis commonly associated with IV drug use, but the end purpose is a rehab program. Many times when the IV drug users have decided they need help and are willing to commit to a rehab program the availability of these programs can be limited. For example, one program in Morgantown has openings for 500 patients.
After nearly a year of looking at options for a needle exchange program, the board enlisted the services of the Mylan Puskar Health Right group from Morgantown. This group began as a free clinic to provide medical care for anyone that did not have insurance. The seed money for the clinic was provided by Mylan Pharmaceutical and the Puskar family, and that is where the association ended. This clinic has flourished and expanded over the years but does not create any financial gains for Mylan or the Puskar family.
Prior to implementing the needle exchange program in our county, an informational program was scheduled with 100 invitations sent to
The next concern from the radio interview is the misinformation that, and I quote, “they are giving out needles out of a van.” What the councilman failed to tell you is that the staff in that mobile unit consists of a registered nurse and a licensed social worker. These professionals bring the medical capability and knowledge to meet the needs of their clients. Wound care, HIV and hepatitis testing, education and protection from sexual transmission — also a means for transferring HIV and hepatitis — are just a few services provide by these professionals. They educate on the importance of using clean needles and disposing of them
This now leads us to the next wrong statement in the interview: “No identification required.” Each and every person using these services has an identification that only the staff in the mobile unit will see and understand. This is to protect the privacy of those clients. And another wrong statement is that
Councilman Skinner insisted that local medical personnel, doctors, EMS
Another topic on the show was about retractable needles. They are a wonderful device to help prevent accidental needle sticks. Hospitals and physician’s offices have used retractable needles for years. Unfortunately, the drug user can do the same things with a retractable needle that can be done with a regular syringe needle. Retractable needles are all manual. In other words, that
Mayor Jones used an example that the IV drug user will inject the heroin, then draw blood back into the syringe to mix with any remaining heroin to make sure they get all of the
In summary, the needle exchange programs are a needed service to not only protect the
Can we improve these programs? “Lord I hope so.” There are always ways to improve. There is a fine and difficult line between public opinion and medical application, and it can create many questions and opinions. Our hope is that common ground can be obtained and the effectiveness of these programs will protect our community and also provide the help that the IV drug user desperately needs to regain their life, free from addiction.
Larry R. Carpenter
Buckhannon-Upshur Co. Health Department Board Member