Reps meet for proposed harm reduction program
Dave Didden, Jefferson County health officer, facilitated a meeting Tuesday night hoping to involve the community in a harm reduction program he is going to propose today to the health department board.
While the Jefferson County Health Department extended invitations to local individuals who are impacted by drug use – either directly or through family and friends who use drugs – to include them in the conversation and potential solutions, Didden; Bob Shefner, executive director of Jefferson Community Ministries; and Delegate Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, were the only ones in attendance at the Tuesday meeting.
During the meeting at JCCM, Didden focused on what a harm reduction program in the area would entail and why it would be an important part of the solutions to combating the drug epidemic plaguing the Eastern Panhandle, as well as the entire state and
“Just sitting down with someone and listening, and validating what they’re saying, and not being judgmental and not trying to force an agenda on them, but just meeting them where they are and kind of saying, ‘Well, here are some of the options that you have moving ahead.’ I think that’s empowering to people,” Didden said. “I think the recovery of a community starts with one life at a time, and that’s what I’m hoping to accomplish at the health department is just one person, and starting with that.”
Didden said a harm reduction program, if implemented, would entail reduced drug transmission through HIV and hepatitis B and C prevention; expanded access to Naloxone, which is used to treat narcotics overdoses; a syringe exchange and access point; and more opportunities to connect with those in need of help and working toward finding solutions.
According to Didden, the cost of preventing HIV, or hepatitis B or C, is much less than it is to treat, and that’s part of the reason he hopes a program will be a success in the area.
Shefner said one of the most important aspects of ensuring a program such as this works is building relationships, and he said the health department has proven to have the interest of combating problems faced by the public in mind.
“I think this is a board of health that is really into public health more than in previous years,” Shefner. “It’s about the quality and continued support of relationships that lift people up as they take some difficult steps in life.”
Didden highlighted harm reduction programs across the country and state that have seen success, and he said it’s time the area jumped on board with a similar program.
While finding funding is something to keep in mind when developing any new program, Didden said the health department has already budgeted some money for it, and he hopes to reach out to other health departments throughout the state that collectively have a large cash reserve fund for help.
Didden also mentioned establishing statewide standards that don’t necessarily have to be funded.
“If we’re able to establish standards, again, even if it’s not directly funded, it will allow these relationships to unfold,” Didden said. “It will allow local health departments to convene the appropriate partners who are interested in providing these services, and I just have to believe that people will find a way to fund this.”
Upson, who serves on the committee in the West Virginia House of Delegates dedicated to prevention and treatment of substance abuse, offered her perspective from the state government level.
“As you know, that’s going to be the challenge this year with the budget, and (the question) is, ‘What’s going to be the fiscal note?’ That’s what everyone’s going to want to know for every bill that’s introduced,” Upson said. “So, as long as it’s clear that funding isn’t a necessary component to start up this framework, (it should be possible).”
Didden also said he hopes conversations about harm reduction programs will make individuals want to become involved or come forward for help.
“Call the health department in Jefferson County, ask them about the harm reduction clinic and get an appointment for an initial consultation,” Didden said. “Find out what insurances we take, and so forth. One of the missions of public health is to identify needs in the community and work to meet those needs.”
For more information, Didden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jefferson County Health Department can be reached at 304-728-8416.