The recovery services coordinator in Berkeley County gave an update to county council members on Thursday morning, regarding several new and upcoming projects – including an initiative from the county’s health department.
Things are taking shape for a potential harm reduction program in Berkeley County. Now, officials have approached the county, as well as the city of Martinsburg, for help.
They’ve asked for $35,000 from the county and $15,000 from the city, to get the program off the ground. It focuses on providing new, clean needles for drug users to prevent the spread of infections.
“Using clean needles can help prevent the spread of disease,” said Angela Gray, nurse director at the Berkeley County Health Department. “So, if they’re already using these drugs, injecting these drugs and sharing needles, then they’re spreading Hepatitis B, C [and] potentially HIV.”
Officials said that in 2015, the state of West Virginia ranked number one in the nation for Hepatitis B cases, and number two for Hepatitis C cases. In Berkeley County specifically, the numbers are even higher compared to the rest of the state, which has endured a 25 percent cut to public health funding in the last year.
“I think the biggest misconception is that drug use is rampant in the big city, but it’s also rampant in rural areas,” said Timi Adediran, epidemiologist at the Berkeley County Health Department. “We’re seeing more and more of rural America being vulnerable to drug addictions.”
The health department is envisioning a comprehensive program, which includes STD testing, vaccines and family planning services.
“A lot of people feel that this is enabling the drug addict, but the addict is already using,” Gray added. “We’re going to help them reduce infectious diseases that can affect all of us.”
A coalition from New York is coming down in March to train health officials for two days on harm reduction. If all goes according to plan, the health department hopes to have the harm reduction program active in April or May.