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EDITORIAL: Is needle exchange program the way to go?

Charleston Daily Mail (WV) - 6/8/2015

June 08--"I hated myself, it was misery. But when you're in the grips of it, the only way I thought I could escape it was one more time."

Those are the words of Patton Couch, a young man in Kentucky recently diagnosed with hepatitis C, a disease he likely contracted by using a contaminated needle to shoot drugs into his veins.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials, hepatitis C cases across West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia tripled between 2006 and 2012. But hepatitis is just the beginning of the story. Scott County, Indiana, which shares some similarities with Appalachian drug users, is dealing with one of the nation's worst outbreaks of HIV in decades among those who use needles to shoot drugs into their bodies.

West Virginia could face the same fate if something isn't done to curb the use of dirty needles among drug users.

Officials in other states have taken steps to get those contaminated needles off the streets in an effort to slow the prevalence of hepatitis C. Kentucky in March passed a bill to allow local health departments to create and maintain needle exchange programs to keep contaminated needles out of the hands of drug users. Experts tell the Associated Press the benefits are great. But skeptics remain, saying such programs facilitate drug use rather than prevent it.

So what's the answer here? How do we slow the prevalence of hepatitis C, which can lead to cirrhosis or cancer and is the leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S.?

Law enforcement is doing what it can to keep drugs off our streets. Our state's lawmakers have approved legislation to increase or improve community-based treatment centers for those dealing with substance abuse issues and allow first responders and others to administer lifesaving medication to those experiencing overdose.

West Virginia has been plagued by substance abuse for far too long. It's destroying our families, our communities and our economy.

Those on the front lines are doing a great job combating the issue head-on. Unfortunately, however, it seems those efforts aren't quite enough.

Maybe it's time to start thinking outside the box. A needle exchange program may have its critics, but it could be the way to slow the disease's progress and keep our children and others safe from contaminated needles.

Is it the right step? Who knows, but perhaps it's one our law enforcement agencies and state Legislature should consider.


(c)2015 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)

Visit the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.) at www.dailymail.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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