OHIO COUNTY, W. Va. (WTRF)

The Ohio County Health Department is ready to re-start their needle exchange program so that addicted individuals don’t share or re-use needles.

They are planning to operate at three sites—the health department office, Northwood Health Systems and Project HOPE.

The health department’s program was successfully in place from 2015 to 2021.

But it stopped in January 2022 when the state legislature mandated that any county needle exchange program must be approved by the state health department.

At that point, the Ohio County Health Department officials and staff had their hands full.

They were dealing with the Omicron variant, COVID boosters and mass vaccination clinics.

They couldn’t stop and write up a plan for a new program and submit it to the state.

But since then, they’ve carved out some time and they’ve written a program and submitted it to the state for approval.

Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble says it’s vital to public health.

“The main advantage for public health is disease prevention,” said Gamble. “ That’s number one. If you can reduce HIV and hepatitis cases, it’s a successful program. And it may be one case. But one case of hepatitis or HIV can be tremendously expensive to the community. So the main goal for a needle exchange program is disease prevention.”

It is a one-for-one program, meaning one used needle can be exchanged for one new needle.

And each person can bring in up to 20 at a time, and get 20 new needles.

The program cuts down on discarded needles being found on the streets.

And it encourages people with addictions to adopt a healthier lifestyle one small step at a time.

The Ohio County Health Department is ready to re-launch the program, as soon as they get approval from the state.