ROANOKE, Va. – A harm reduction law passed last year to prevent the transmitting of blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis C and HIV, is causing discussion among Roanoke city leaders.
The program would allow official facilities to exchange dirty needles with clean ones. The Drop-In Center in Roanoke has been on a mission to protect the health of people in the community struggling with addiction.
One way it does this is by distributing brown paper bags filled with tools like gauze and sterile water packs.
The center is looking to do more by offering a needle exchange program that could protect addicts from blood-borne diseases. It would also give the center the opportunity to share its recovery services with users.
According to the Virginia Department of Health, the increase of hepatitis has been linked to the opioid crisis. From 2008 to 2012, young adults in Roanoke have increased the use of intravenous drugs by more than 257 percent. Statewide, there was a 66 percent increase.
“It’s not a really expensive way to avoid hep. C and HIV, because the needles are like 10 cents apiece. So in the long run, it ends up costing a lot of less money to give people what they need to keep themselves safe,” said Colin Dwyer, program coordinator for the Drop- In Center.
To implement such a program, places like the Drop-In Center would need approval from law enforcement and the City Council.
Council member Bill Bestpitch tells 10 News that the problem is more of a public health issue than a criminal one.
“I think the poor individuals who are suffering from addiction are not criminals. They have a medical problem that needs to be dealt with as a medical issue, and locking them up is not going to solve anything,” Bestpitch said.
The Drop-In Center is next door to the police station and Dwyer believes that could hurt their chances of becoming a needle exchange program.
Not everyone is a fan of the needle exchange program. Roanoke’s police chief says the program would make it easier for addicts to break the law.
The City Council is expected to hear the city manager's recommendation regarding the needle exchange program sometime in October.