Public meeting Tuesday for harm reduction program

BUCKHANNON — The Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department hopes an upcoming public informational session sheds light on the ‘L.I.G.H.T.’ harm reduction program that’s now being offered in Upshur County.

The health department and Milan Puskar Health Right are teaming up to sponsor an open educational presentation on harm reduction for the general public beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, in the Public Safety Complex’s community training room on Florida Street.

L.I.G.H.T. — an acronym for Living in Good Health Together — is a harm reduction and hypodermic needle exchange program being offered through the health department with the assistance of Milan Puskar Health Right, a free healthcare clinic in Morgantown. Local health officials say the program is designed to curb the spread of blood-borne diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV by providing heroin/opioid users with clean needles to discourage the sharing of “dirty” needles used to inject controlled substances.

In April, nurse director Sue McKisic at the health department announced that MPHR would be offering the program once a month at two locations ­— in the health department parking lot and at the intersection of Routes 4 and 119. Since that announcement, the implementation of the program has proved somewhat controversial with several residents and local governmental officials expressing concerns.

McKisic has argued the harm reduction program offers a slew of other services in addition to the controversial needle exchange portion, including wound care, social services, mental health counseling services, referral to treatment and recovery resources and more.

The health department is hoping for a sizable turnout, McKisic said Thursday.

“I’m kind of hoping to get more people educated on it and make them aware of risks and harms in our community and what we can do to reduce those,” she said. “I’m sure that there will be a lot of people that still won’t agree with it, but it’s about community health and the public health.”

MPHR executive director Laura Jones will be delivering Tuesday’s informational session.

The harm reduction program is offered on the second Thursday of the month. McKisic said two people picked up supplies for three individuals at the first harm reduction clinic in May, and on Thursday, six people participated in the program.

Board of Health Chairman Michael Livesay invted the public to Tuesday’s meeting.

“I encourage all of those who are interested in better educating themselves on this topic and issue to please attend this public information meeting as it will be very beneficial to all who attend,” he said. “We have begun building a great relationship with Milan Puskar Health Right and I look forward to continuing that partnership.”

The hypodermic needle exchange component of the harm reduction has sparked debate in other areas of the Mountain State, namely the capital city. An official with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said Thursday that although the needle exchange portion of the harm reduction program had been suspended indefinitely, it still offers other harm reduction services, such as drug counseling.

For more information about the L.I.G.H.T. program, call MPHR at 304-292-8234.


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