Letter to the Editor

By Roger Vannoy,

In 2020, there were 1,291 opioid overdose deaths in West Virginia. In 2021, there were 1,253. According to WVU, West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose fatalities and Hepatitis infections in the country. In 2021, West Virginia had 2,196 cases of HIV, 149 new cases that year, including an outbreak of HIV in Kanawha County. The opioid epidemic costs West Virginia taxpayers billions of dollars each year through hospital write offs, EMS response, lost work time, Medicaid dollars going to treat preventable blood borne pathogen infections leading to chronic diseases, etc. These are serious problems, and they require serious solutions.

My name is Roger Vannoy, and I am a Registered Nurse. So, when I see the West Virginia state Legislature creating new laws and restrictions that end up hurting the citizens of our state and our economy, it hits home for me. In 2021, the West Virginia state Legislature passed Senate Bill 334. It created new, onerous requirements on County Health departments, including potential fines of up to 10 thousand dollars, which led to needle exchange and harm reduction programs being shut down. Harm reduction programs save lives and taxpayer money in our state.

In nursing school, and every hospital orientation, you are taught to treat needles with caution. “Don’t recap needles, don’t bend them, ensure you place the used needle in the sharps container” etc. The reason being because you do not want to accidentally stick yourself or others with a dirty needle and potentially be infected by Hepatitis B/C or HIV.

So, why is the state Legislature and Governor Justice intent on not safely collecting dirty needles from individuals actively using IV drugs? Needle exchanges protect our communities by collecting dirty needles and disposing of them properly. Thus, containing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis B, & C. The catch is that clean needles are exchanged for dirty needles. Otherwise, the same needles are reused, potentially spreading infections.

Harm reduction programs offer vaccinations, birth control, counseling with a peer recovery coach, Narcan distribution and education, needle exchanges, etc. All are lifesaving interventions. Substance abusers will continue to use needles, so why not protect our communities from the spread of disease by ensuring it is done safely. Let’s help people the smart way and save money in the process by supporting harm reduction programs. On March 3, 2024, I will be hosting a free Narcan training event at the Williamsburg Community Building from 2 pm to 4 pm. We will have free Chili and Cornbread for all who come. I invite all who are interested in learning more about harm reduction programs to attend.

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