Cabell Needle Exchange Program now limited to county residents

An exchange box sits in front of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department for used needles. (WCHS/WVAH)

Cabell County's Needle Exchange Program has gone through some changes that make it stricter for some to access the needles.

Perhaps the biggest change in the program is that only Cabell County residents may use it. Program participants must show identification before making an exchange for clean needles.

Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial said the concern with the program was needles laying on the ground and not being disposed of properly. This puts first responders and the public at risk, he said.

Another concern was individuals coming to Huntington for free needles and committing crimes to buy heroin.

"We arrested them for robbing places and asked them why they were here, and they were coming here to get needles," Dial said. "They were coming from around the region."

Dial said some were coming from Putnam or Lincoln counties, for example.

"Those communities outside of our community are capable of having programs like this serving their own people," said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, Physician Director at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.

Another new guideline for the program is that friends and family can no longer exchange needles for someone else. The needle exchange will be a close one-for-one with a possible exception for someone who is at-risk for disease who has no needles to exchange.

"We will give them a limited number of syringes, and when they bring those back, we see how compliant are they with us and how do we serve them," Kilkenny said. "If they never bring us any back we say sorry, we can't serve you."

Rocky Meadows, a former drug addict who now helps drug users fight the addiction as CEO of Life House Ministries, said he thinks the requirements for the Needle Exchange Program are good.

"I support it even more," Meadows said. "Before I think it was a little messy and there were needles everywhere. What we're saying is we want to keep these people safer."

Dial and Kilkenny have been discussing concerns with the program since January. Both say they will continue to monitor the changes, and make more if needed.

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