State ready to roll out needle exchange program

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) says it’s the big public health concern behind the opioid epidemic. The department says as drug use has dramatically increased, so have the cases of Hepatitis C and in some parts of the country cases of HIV. It’s all being blamed on dirty needles being used by addicts.

“Blood gets into the needles, and if they share those needles it’s very easy to transmit diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C,” Elaine Martin with the VDH said.

Martin says they are currently accepting applications from localities to begin a new program across the state aimed at attacking the problem. The needle exchange program will give away clean needles to drug users. The program has come under attack, however, with critics saying it will encourage people to do drugs.

The program has come under attack, however, with critics saying it will encourage people to do drugs.

“Providing clean syringes and needles does not increase drug use,” Martin said. “It actually removes dirty needles from the streets and lessens the likelihood that a first responder such a policeman or a fireman is going to have an accidental needle stick on the job.”

Martin says they have decades of evidence that shows it will drastically reduce the transmission of disease. She points to a small county in Indiana where about 200 people contracted HIV using dirty needles.

“Virginia has eight counties that are deemed to be at high risk for a similar outbreak,” Martin said.

Martin says this affects the entire state’s health saying you don’t have to be a drug user to get infected.

“Even if you are not injecting drugs your sex partners might be,” she explained. “We want to prevent transmission to those partners as well.”

While there have not been any cases of HIV due to dirty needles in the Richmond area, Martin says Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico and Petersburg are listed as cities and counties at risk.

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