Huntington – The controversial Harm Reduction program in Cabell County is under renewed scrutiny as county commissioners opted to remove it from the recent agenda. Commissioner John Mandt affirmed that the harm reduction program, aimed at combating the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic linked to needle reuse for drug injections, will remain unchanged.
The program, initiated in 2015, drew attention for its needle exchange component, with the belief that distributing clean needles to drug addicts would curb the spread of diseases. However, critics argue that the needle exchange rate falls short of expectations. Mandt recounted an incident during a site visit where a participant requested 90 needles, highlighting a major concern regarding the program’s efficacy.
State law currently calls for a one-to-one exchange.
“The user will get a replacement needle even though he didn’t exchange one, and then the dirty used needle is left lying on the street where a child could pick it up,” Mandt expressed, emphasizing the program’s imperfections.
Despite the ongoing challenges, Mandt advocated for maintaining the status quo, citing a call from a state senator informing them of potential legislative adjustments in the near future. This decision means that any major changes to the program will be deferred until after the Legislature convenes in January 2024.
However, concerns persist about the reported surge in HIV cases in Cabell County, with some estimating an increase from 300 to 1,500 cases in the past nine years. Activist Jan Hite King, a Commission seat candidate, expressed skepticism about the program’s effectiveness, urging transparency and open communication about the actual case numbers.
Commissioner Kelli Sobonya, who campaigned against the program in 2018, remains a focal point of speculation. Some courthouse insiders suggest that Sobonya, facing re-election in 2024, might change her stance and support the needle exchange, while other political minds speculate that her fellow commissioners may vote against it as a political favor.
The needle exchange program has found support from Huntington Quick Response Team Coordinator Connie Priddy, who emphasized its role in providing services such as peer recovery support. Priddy argued for keeping individuals alive and healthy until they can receive comprehensive help.
Mandt, though supportive of the program for now, reserved final judgment pending legislative developments. The uncertainty surrounding the harm reduction program underscores the complexity and controversy surrounding efforts to address drug misuse and its associated public health challenges in Cabell County.
This is an ongoing story and part of a series of coverage.