ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - A free needle exchange program will be available in Roanoke in just a few weeks. The Drop-In Center in Roanoke City is planning for a mobile unit to offer this service and others.
It has been a controversial effort to reduce the effects of the opioid crisis. The plan has been vetted and approved by the City and the Department of Health, but not without pushback - all of which was expected by leaders.
"This is just something that Roanoke needed to do," said Pamela Meador, Director of the Drop-in Center.
Just weeks ahead of the rollout of its second Roanoke location, Meador is defending their plan.
"It's a health hazard and that's what this program is [about]," she said. "It's looking at reducing this risk."
Pam Meador is talking about what the Drop-In Center is doing to reduce the effects of the opioid crisis. They're currently based next to the Roanoke Police department downtown, offering services such as HIV and Hepatitis C testing and management.
But mid-January, they'll open a second location on Williamson Road near Avendale Avenue. It will offer the same services, with a distinct focus in harm reduction, such as disease prevention, for those who use illegal substances.
It comes with the creation of a mobile unit, which will distribute free, clean syringes to clients.
"We're not providing them with the means to inject drugs," she said of their clients. "We're providing them with the means to not transmit or contract hopefully HIV or Hepatitis C."
Meador said syringes will only be given away through the mobile clinic, stationed at undisclosed locations, known only to staff, clients and the police department for safety reasons. Each client will register as a member and must adhere to requirements, like follow-up referrals, to participate.
"We're not operating where we're just, you know, handing out needles left and right or anything like that," Meador said. "They have to be enrolled in the program and holding up their end of the bargain."
Meador emphasized that they plan to use this as a way to get more people in front of assistance with food, housing, jobs and, ultimately, treatment for substance abuse.
“We’re just really hoping that this is a true access point for all of those services.”
WDBJ7 spoke with business owners alongside and across the new Williamson Road location. Some told us they don't mind the plans, but others told WDBJ7 and the leader of the Williamson Road Area Business Association that they're worried about what this means for business and the perception of Williamson Road, among other concerns.
We also reached out to Roanoke's City Manager, Bob Cowell.
He told us via email the city will work closely with the drop-in center to make sure it's successful.
"The City remains an active partner in on-going efforts to address substance use disorder, and to ensure counseling, treatment and recovery services are available to those in need," he wrote in an email.
The Drop-In Center North, as it will be called, is slated to open January 13, the same date Meador plans to roll out the new mobile unit.
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