Beginning in December 2015 the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department opened its Harm Reduction Clinic with Syringe Exchange Program. The program is designed to reduce the number of shared and re-used needles in order to control the spread of Hepatitis. Through confidentiality the patients receive the assistance they need through the needle exchange, counseling, and the various testing options available.
The Kanawha-Charleston program does not run off of any state funding or grants and relies completely on donations and volunteers to keep up with its increasing number of weekly patients. Volunteers can assist nurses in preparing patient bags containing clean syringes, a container for used syringes, as well as other products used to administer safe injections, such as alcohol pads and cotton balls. Several UCSOP students and faculty volunteer each week and gain experience with patient interactions.
The Harm Reduction Clinic takes place every Wednesday from 10:00am until 3:00pm. Patients, who remain anonymous throughout the process, have the opportunity to consult with a rehabilitation and addiction counselors while in the waiting area. Each patient is given the opportunity to safely exchange used syringes for new ones, with the promise that the patient will return the next week for the same purpose. While at the health department patients have access to free testing for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV. Patients can also request to have a doctor access any injections sites for signs of infection. The program also offers contraceptives to women patients.
In addition to the screening and testing options available, patients are also encouraged to complete a short Naloxone training course. With the increased drug use also comes increased risk of overdose, and this training helps patients to better identify the signs of an overdose. Naloxone can be injected into someone who is experiencing an overdose in order to reverse the effects and potentially safe a life. The training takes place during the hours of the clinic an lasts approximately 30 minutes. Patients walk away with a sample of Naloxone and the proper training to handle an overdose situation.
The Harm Reduction Clinic and Needle Exchange Program provide a safe place for patients to discuss their concerns and receive counseling. The Health Department also ensures the safety of its patients by keeping the identity of each patient anonymous and maintaining police presence. This program is fairly new it has already seen an increase in the number of weekly patients, and its services have already affected many patients. While the program centers on reducing the prevalence of diseases transmitted by sharing and re-using needles, the program has also aided many patients in drug detoxification and recovery programs.