Roanoke police chief speaks out about approving controversial needle exchange program

City Council approved Comprehensive Harm Reduction Program on Monday

By Jessica Jewell - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - We're learning more about Roanoke’s latest step towards combating the opioid crisis.

Monday, City Council gave the go-ahead for a Comprehensive Harm Reduction Program that includes a controversial needle exchange program.

One of the biggest critics in the past, police Chief Tim Jones, is now giving his stamp of approval.

Jones didn't approve of the initial proposal for a needle exchange program. He saw the pros for public health, letting people swap dirty needles for clean ones, but also saw major cons for public safety by potentially asking his officers to turn a blind eye to illegal drug use.

"If I pump the brakes over that process, I think as a police chief, that was probably sound reasoning for doing so," Jones said.

Going back to the drawing board, Jones worked with several stakeholders to bridge the gap. Without giving specifics, Jones said he's confident the Comprehensive Harm Reduction Program will help people in need and keep neighborhoods safe.

"We took extra care to try to minimize opportunities for abuses within the free needle exchange component," Jones said.

Needle exchange is just one piece of the puzzle. The plan is to send two mobile units to different locations each month and connect registered participants with resources for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

"Our model may become a model for other places to utilize and I hope it does," Jones said.

The program still has to clear the Virginia Department of Health. Organizers hope once that happens, it can launch in Roanoke in late July or August.

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