The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department opened the program in December 2015, and provided a syringe exchange, doses of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, and testing for infectious diseases associated with intravenous drug users like HIV and hepatitis C," but the politics shifted, Ashton Marra reports for 100 Days in Appalachia. "Restrictions were placed on the syringe services . . . and local politicians began criticizing the health department in the media, claiming the city was experiencing a spike in crime because of the syringe program." It closed in early 2018.
The researchers interviewed 27 adults who had used the program. Most participants were homeless and had used intravenous drugs within the past month. They said they had engaged in riskier behavior since the program closed because it's now more difficult to access clean needles. "One participant said he found used needles on the street and would bleach them before use," Marra reports.
Female participants said they believed they were at a greater risk of contracting HIV since the program's closure, and both genders said they were less likely to seek testing for HIV and other infectious diseases. Many said they knew testing was available elsewhere, but said they had been treated poorly at other clinics or nearby hospitals. They preferred the Charleston program, they said, because staff there treated them with respect and compassion.
"The study attempted to fill a gap in the research about how these programs affect rural areas, but existing studies showed that a syringe exchange program reduces the rates and spread of HIV and other infectious diseases in a place, which leads to not just healthier communities, but also cost savings," Marra reports. "The programs also provide access to overdose-reversing drugs that save lives and allow for greater access to information that can lead to rehabilitation and recovery."