UCSOP Students Volunteer at Kanawha Charleston Health Department Harm Reduction Program

Contributed by: Grandee Dang, Class of 2019 ASCP Secretary 

Growing up within the inner-city communities of California, I was exposed to many of the social and economic problems that plagued the area. Drug addiction was one of the main reoccurring themes within the topic of discussions. Whether it was the “Just Say No” slogan broadcasted on our televisions or the “DARE” members congregating on the school grounds, the problem of drug abuse was always prevalent within my hometown of San Jose. The taboo nature of drug use bled into the community and unfortunately also dehumanized drug users. As a result, the terms “drug user” became associated with shaming and an overall sub community that have been labeled as “criminals” or hopeless addicts. However, as with any problem, there are two sides to the story. One of those is given to the general public and the vision that is often shared by those battling the drugs on the front lines.

During the week-long Thanksgiving break, my colleague, Alan Lam, and I were attracted to the idea of taking our time off to volunteer within the community. With the current opioid problem plaguing West Virginia, we became interested in learning more about educating ourselves about the opioid addiction and how we can better serve the community. Dr. Acree, an assistant professor and pharmacist at UCSOP,  had routinely volunteered at the Kanawha Health Department every Wednesday for the needle exchange. Intrigued, we both wanted to participate in the needle exchange along side with Dr. Acree.

“Just like the diverse community addiction affects, there is no singular solution to the problem, but the needle exchange program is a valuable asset in servicing these patients.”

The enriching experience illustrated that not all drug users are like the stereotypes that are often portrayed in the media. Many of the individuals who visited the clinic were not so different from those of the general population. They had jobs and families, but were stricken with the disease of addiction. During our visit we got to practice our empathy skills throughout our interactions with the patients at the clinic, as well. During the needle exchange, we realized that even though we cannot cure the disease of addiction or the influx of the opiate abuse, we can at least lower the spread of blood borne diseases associated with needle sharing. Just like the diverse community that addiction affects, there is no singular solution to the problem, but the needle exchange program is a valuable asset in servicing these patients. Upon observation, we realized that addiction could affect people of all ages from all socioeconomic backgrounds. In time we hope we could continue this program and perhaps expand it throughout areas where opiate abuse has uprooted the community. If these efforts save only one life or present the spread of blood borne disease to just one person, it is well worth the effort.

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