One of the largest needle exchanges in West Virginia is right here in the Ohio Valley, and it’s working to not only stop diseases from spreading, but to help people too.
Over 250 clean needles are given out each week by the Ohio County Health Department, and while some may argue this is enabling drug users, the health department says it’s actually opening the door for treatment.
Howard Gamble says since 2015, about 8,000 needles have been given out in the one for one exchange: a dirty needle for a clean needle.
When the program first started, they didn’t see a lot of people. Now, they do. Gamble says the program is long term and preventative response to the drug epidemic.
He says in relation to treating an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis, the cost of the exchange program is very low.
Many people have been referred directly to Northwood for treatment right at the exchange.
“Well we have individuals who come in and they’ll just take their needles, the alcohol pads and move on. They give us their dirty, they take their clean. Sometimes, we have individuals who want to talk a little bit, whether it’s sharing personal moments or they have a discussion, whether it’s on disease issues, and then there’s that next step, if they’re ready at that moment we can refer them to Northwood,” Gamble said.
Along with the needles, people receive alcohol pads, condoms, and some health pamphlets.
Rapid HIV testing is available as well as same day testing and counseling at Northwood.
You don’t need to be exchanging needles, you can also bring needles there to be disposed.
The main goal is to get dirty needles out of houses and off the streets.
The exchange is open every Friday at Northwood.