Roanoke's response to opioid crisis could soon include needle exchange

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Roanoke's response to the Opioid crisis could soon include a needle exchange program.

Police Chief Tim Jones, has signed a letter supporting the program, and the Council of Community Services is preparing to file an application with the Virginia Department of Health.

Jones didn't speak during the city council meeting Monday afternoon.

But he stood with other representatives of Roanoke Valley Collective Response as they described a comprehensive harm reduction program that would include syringe services.

"In spite of accusations to the contrary," said Roanoke City Manager Bob Cowell, "the police chief has worked closely with the groups to arrive at a program... that addresses both the public health issue as well as response to his other legal obligations."

Cowell said the media's focus on the needle exchange program is "somewhat unfortunate," because the opioid crisis is complex, and the solution demands a comprehensive approach.

Advocates say a needle exchange would reduce the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood-borne infections, but is only part of a much larger effort.

Cheri Hartman is President of the Roanoke Valley Hope Initiative.

"The idea of this is a truly sustainable approach to harm reduction that leads people into getting the help that they need for their disease of addiction," Hartman said.

And representatives of Roanoke Valley Collective Response said they believe they have made significant progress in the six months they have been meeting.

Kimberly Horn is a member of the Steering Committee.

"We're seeing people from all sectors working together. and people are getting out of their silos, and helping each other and talking through problems and issues, and how we can share our resources to find better solutions faster," she said.

The Council of Community Services is now completing the application, and representatives say it should be submitted to the Virginia Department of Health by the end of the month.

The pilot project that includes a needle exchange would also require city council's approval, and so we expect the issue will come back to council members in May.