LOGAN — Over an hour of Monday's regular session of the Logan County Commission was spent discussing a possible needle exchange program in the county, with commissioners eventually voting 2-1 to begin drafting an ordinance that would prohibit such an exchange within county boundaries. If the ordinance is eventually approved, it would be the first of its kind in West Virginia.
Chris Trent of the Logan County Sheriff's Office has been vocal about his opposition to a needle exchange in Logan County, which would allow for injecting drug users to obtain hypodermic syringes through social services at little or no cost. These exchanges are, in theory, designed to reduce the transmission of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV by providing users with clean needles.
Trent provided statistics against needle exchanges, including studies that show that around 3% of people seek recovery options when exchanges are implemented.
In March 2018, the Kanawha County Health Department suspended its needle exchange program after numerous problems arose, including the sharing of patient ID numbers, an increase in syringe litter and 20% of visitors to the exchange clinic being unknown and 46% of them arriving via a proxy.
The number of needles handed out during the Kanawha County needle exchange totaled 651,428 — only 415,812 of which were returned.
"(Former Charleston Mayor Danny Jones) made this a repeating phrase during all this — you don't sacrifice a city for needle exchange," Trent told commissioners. "Gentlemen, please don't sacrifice a county for needle exchange — ever. Not just today, but ever."
Trent also warned that a needle exchange could harm tourism in the county, an industry that officials are trying to expand.
"Let one person get stuck by a dirty needle and let it be on WSAZ, and you'll have no more kayakers come from out of the county who want to kayak the river … or fishermen," Trent said. "... You can see all the problems, but you all have an opportunity today to take action."
Commissioner Danny Ellis said the problem of needle littering is nationwide, and he is unsure if an ordinance against exchanges would solve any problems.
Logan County Sheriff Sonya M. Dingess Porter said she spoke with Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford and Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle in the past week, and they both urged her not to implement a needle exchange in Logan County.
"If you're entertaining the idea of having a needle exchange program, you're inviting people that's not from this community," said Chief Deputy Mike Mayes. "If you look at a lot of the arrests that are made in drug activity, you'll see a lot of cities mentioned — Columbus, Detroit — they know that Logan County is easy prey, and to add needle exchange to that would just compound the problem."
Steve Browning with the Logan County Health Department rebutted some of the earlier claims, including a rumor Trent mentioned that the old 84 Lumber site at Peach Creek was being considered for a needle exchange location. Browning said a needle exchange is not being considered at all and that he is against it himself.
"In 2017, we were exploring options because our budget was cut 30-some percent," Browning said. "A harm-reduction grant came along that included a needle exchange program. We talked to the county commission and the Sheriff's Department, both were against it. We were initially going to go with this grant with nine other counties total … that didn't go through. We're not looking to start up a needle exchange program."
Browning clarified the meaning of the term "harm-reduction," which includes disease screening and distribution of disease preventative materials such as condoms. Browning also criticized Trent's use of Facebook Live, asking him to call next time he hears conflicting information.
Browning said the 84 Lumber site was purchased by the county to be used as a disaster relief center. The health department is considering to use the site one day per week to screen and refer patients — often drug addicts who don't want to enter the Logan County Courthouse where the health department's main office is located.
Trent said he knows many of the claims were only rumors, but by airing them on Facebook Live, it allowed for answers to be had.
Ellis put forth a motion for commission attorney Stephanie Abraham to draft an ordinance that would prevent any type of needle exchange in Logan County. The motion was seconded by Commission President Danny Godby, but did not receive support from commissioner Willie Akers.
"I don't think we need an ordinance, because every ordinance that we pass … they're not followed," Akers said. "We've got an ordinance that you can't smoke right out the door, and they're smoking like crazy. I'm all for the no needles, but I just feel real strong about these ordinances that are put in and are broken every day. Now if we do all these other ones, I'll be glad to come back and second that."
In other news from Monday's commission meeting, commissioners gave $2,000 to the Town of Man for its Fourth of July fireworks and $500 to American Legion Post 19 for its effort to place American flags on veterans' graves during Memorial Day.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Logan County Commission will be at 3 p.m. Monday, June 3, in room 103 of the Logan County Courthouse.