Needle exchange program: Examining the results statewide

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - Roanoke is the fourth city in Virginia to host a site with a Comprehensive Harm Reduction Program. The site, operated by the Council of Community Services, opened on Williamson Road Monday as the Drop-In Center North.

In addition to the on-site program, it will also eventually include a mobile unit which will offer a free needle exchange program throughout the city.

This Comprehensive Harm Reduction program was born directly out of the opioid crisis, making Roanoke qualified to host a program like this. Tuesday, WDBJ7 spoke with a representative from the Virginia Department of Health to find out how successful this program has been in other parts of the state and how it's measuring that success.

With Health Department approval, the state introduced the first Comprehensive Harm Reduction program in Wise County in early 2018.
A site in Richmond in late 2019 was followed by one in Smyth County a year ago. And this week, Roanoke's new site makes it the fourth and newest C-H-R program. The program is aimed at reducing disease in the community and offers more than just the needle exchange.

"All of our sites that have a harm reduction program were deemed to be at risk for an opioid-related or injection-related outbreak of Hep C or HIV," said Elaine Martin, director of HIV and Hepatitis prevention at the Virginia Department of Health.

Martin said potential host cities are judged on 13 factors, including numbers of overdoses, emergency room admissions, HIV cases and people referred into drug-assisted treatment.

"We saw lots of new cases of Hep C, especially occurring among young people, and we knew this was directly tied to the opioid epidemic."

They now have a year and a half of data from the three sites - showing a total of 779 registered users as of December 31. The sites collectively have handed out 161,924 needles and disposed of 137,800 needles.
But it's the number of reversed overdoses because of naloxone -251 so far - that surprised Martin the most.

"I don't think I expected the number to be that high, and it's actually really gratifying that we're truly helping to save lives," she said.

That number, Martin said, is self-reported and can mean it's a reversal for the client themselves or someone they administered the drug to. She did say there have been people who have been referred to rehabilitation programs and stopped using altogether.

According to Martin, there have been 437 referrals to some form of substance use disorder treatment and 248 of them resulted in attendance at a first appointment for services. (She did note that this count is for referrals not the number of individuals as some participants may have been referred to more than one service.)

More information on the data collected from the three sites can be found here.

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