Mercer County Board of Health defends needle exchange

Photo by Eric DiNovo/Bluefield Daily TelegraphMembers of the Mercer County Board of Health conduct their October meeting at the Mercer County Health Department Wednesday.

PRINCETON — The Mercer County Board of Health defended its Harm Reduction Program’s needle exchange clinic recently.

During the meeting, Board of Health Chairman Dr. Robert Stevens addressed statements of residents and officials not being informed of the program prior to its October launch. On September 19, all three county commissioners, Gene Buckner, Bill Archer and Greg Puckett, told the Daily Telegraph that they had no knowledge of the program.

“This program, this harm program, started two years ago. Our minutes from June 7, 2017, we discussed the needle exchange program and at that time the member who is a member of the county commission, Greg Puckett, the notes say ‘Greg Puckett brought to the attention of the board the rise in HIV, HEP C, and infections, and the dire need for a needle exchange program,’” Stevens said.

Of the commissioners not knowing about the program, Stevens also said, “At least one of them did, Mr. Puckett, because he helped get it started, the discussion. Unfortunately, he’s not a member of the board anymore.”

As part of the program, intravenous drug users are given a kit that consists of 10 clean needles, alcohol pads, cotton balls, and cookers. According to Stevens, these kits are given to further the board’s effort of preventing disease.

As for the number of how many people have utilized the kits, Mercer County Board of Health Administrator Susan Kadar said, “I’m not ready to report those numbers yet. We’re still in the beginning process.”

Kadar would not give the Daily Telegraph a reason why she was not ready to release the statistics. However, she said the numbers of how many people come to the clinic for a kit will be reported to the state at the end of the month.

Kadar did say, “We’ve had some response” when asked if anyone had come to obtain a kit.

Previously Kadar told the Daily Telegraph that the health department had enough supplies for the program for over 200 people for one year. The program and supplies are run on a year-long basis.

Stevens addressed the lack of a public hearing, or opportunities for public input, prior to the board’s launch of the needle exchange program. According to Stevens, the needle exchange clinic is not an ordinance, therefore a hearing is not required. But he said public comments are welcome.

“This is a program that we’re starting, it’s not to be an ordinance. It’s for the prevention of the spread of infectious disease through people using dirty needles. A program does not need public hearings to be implemented,” Stevens said.

Regarding public interest in the board meetings, Stevens stated that the public is welcome to attend the meetings. Meeting times are currently posted on Facebook and the outside of the Mercer County Department of Health building.

“This is a great service to the county. It’s to prevent the spread of HEP C and HIV infections from people using dirty needles. We’re not advocating the use of IV drugs. We’re trying to prevent the spread of disease. That’s what this program is all about,” Stevens said.

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