Winchester area considers implementing needle exchange program

Virginia

The Virginia Department of Health says the Northern Shenandoah Valley is eligible to start a needle exchange program.

There are currently three localities across Virginia with a needle exchange program in place and the Winchester area may be next. 

“The intent, specifically, is to stop the spread of disease, okay? It’s not to increase or decrease or enable in any way the use of injection drugs,” said Lord Fairfax Health District director Dr. Colin Greene. 

While health officials say there is no way to make illegal drug-use safer, this program would stop the spread of disease through the sharing of needles. 

“The new case rate for Hepatitis C here in the Shenandoah Valley for people aged 18 to 30 is three times the rate in Virginia. In fact, it’s more than three times the rate in Virginia,” said Greene. 

For every clean needle that’s given out, a dirty one would be taken in and properly disposed of. 

“At the same place you have testing for Hepatitis C, you have testing for HIV, you offer immunization against Hepatitis A,” said Greene.

Medical professionals, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, local government leaders and law enforcement would have to come together to make this program work. 

“Then we have other stations where they can get into treatment. They can talk to a peer-recovery counselor, someone who’s been there and come back from it, or a mental health counselor that can get them into an organized treatment program,” said Greene. 

Discussions about the program are in the early stages as it would need to be approved by city council before anything is official. 

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