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Charleston City Council turns down needle exchange program proposal from Women’s Health Center

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Much of Charleston City Council’s time Monday evening was spent discussing a proposal from the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia on a needle exchange program to be located at their West Side facility. Ultimately, a majority of council members voted it down.

A roll call vote was taken with nine for the proposal and 17 against it.

The Women’s Health Center applied for a syringe service program license recently. The program would be a part of their ongoing harm reduction program at their Washington Street building.

The last needle exchange program in the area was in 2018, run by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. It was shut down following reports of a mismanaged agency and littered needles not making it to disposal boxes.

To begin the discussion on the resolution, 10 people in total, with five for the proposal and five against, were selected to speak on the matter. A motion was brought forth to allow for more people to speak, but that was rejected by the council.

A public hearing was held at the Goodwill Prosperity Center in Charleston last month with more than 100 people showing up. Dozens of people had spoke at that hearing, and Monday, nearly a dozen more spoke in front of City Council.

Those for the program being added by the Women’s Health Center expressed concerns of the “health emergency” already taking place on the west side. They believe the needle exchange program would save lives.

Those against the proposal had brought back comments made by residents from the July public hearing, many of them either west side residents or business owners. They believe the program would be a magnet for current drug users and hurt the community more than help it.

As for city council members, a more lengthy discussion was had. Around half of the council members had something to say leading up to the vote. Conversations on the floor lasted for nearly an hour and a half.

Council member Frank Annie, who was a yes vote, said harm reduction programs help limit chronic hepatitis C cases.

“It’s very hard for them to get treatment when they’re still using,” Annie said. We have a problem in Charleston with these diseases. Hepatitis C will bankrupt us.”

According to Annie, there was over a 100% increase in Hep-C cases from 2018 to 2019. 230 cases were reported in 2018 with 530 in 2019.

Council members Pat Jones voted against the proposal. He said needle exchange was something he warned the mayor about years prior, claiming the city would try and bring it back and drug users “couldn’t wait.”

Jones then went on to suggest the city look into bringing in an organization within the DEA, Task Force Officers to help dismantle drug use and trafficking in the area.

Council member Larry Moore also voted no on the proposal. He grew up on the West Side and now represents it. He said he got a lot of calls from the people in his ward saying they are for harm reduction, but against the needle exchange.

“I could’ve left, but I came back because I didn’t want the neighborhood to fall off.” Moore said. “People that I’ve talked to are not against it, but there are certain things with how we get treated in the neighborhood, and the repercussions fall back on us.”

Other council members said they quickly heard from people of their wards when news of the proposal from the Women’s Health Center was made.

Mayor Amy Goodwin voted no. She gave her reasoning while speaking on 580-WCHS Monday morning

“I have a real concern about this location,” she said. “Council members from wards one through six, which are all on the west side, tell me to not do this.”

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