Raleigh County considers needle exchange amid spike in Hepatitis - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Raleigh County considers needle exchange amid spike in Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV

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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) A rise in cases of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV has the board overseeing the Raleigh County Health Dept. considering the addition of a needle exchange to its services. 

The move comes amid a recent CDC ranking West Virginia first in the nation for new cases of Hepatitis B. According to Beckley physician Dr. Ayne Amjad, many of those cases are in Southern West Virginia. 

"The CDC has marked 50 counties at risk for new onset Hepatitis C cases. West Virginia has 28 of the 50 in the United States." 

Dr. Amjad started a private needle exchange in 2016 after noticing a starting number of patients coming in with a Hepatitis diagnosis. 

"I think part of the problem is people don't know they have it and they're spreading it. There's the notion that we're in a small town and it's not going to happen."

In light of the recent spike, the Beckley-Raleigh County Health Dept. board is considering adding the addition of a needle exchange, but only as part of a number of harm reduction activities. They include outreach and peer education to reduce risks associated with drug use, opioid substitution therapies, confidential counseling and testing for HIV, hepatitis, and other sexually transmitted diseases; overdose prevention, including Naloxone; contraceptive options; and referrals to drug treatment and mental health counseling. 

"Of course our board is looking at a number of initiatives, possibly syringe exchange. I know that's a tough issue for some people, but it's not going to be the cure by any means," said the department's Acting Dir. Candace Hurd,

In the couple years, Hurd said the region has also experienced a rise in the number of HIV. "If we get that mixed in with our IV drug use, that will be a very big concern...so we have to be proactive." 

Hurd encourages anyone interested in learning more about the department's services to contact their office at 304-252-8531, ext. 0. She said the department also has a medication available that can reduce the risk of HIV for partners of those suffering from the disease.

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