Charleston mayor says implementing needle exchange program was a mistake

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston Mayor Danny Jones says former Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Director Dr. Michael Brumage has backed a “disastrous” needle exchange program in the city because more dirty needles keep ending up all over town.

“These needles are everywhere that they shouldn’t be including bathrooms where little kids get stabbed with them and houses that have been abandoned,” Jones said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones

Jones wants to dismantle the program. He said it should’ve never been implemented in the first place.

“It was a mistake. It was wrong and we shouldn’t have done it,” Jones said.

The mayor proposed an ordinance to City Council this month to eliminate it.

Advocates, like Dr. Brumage, are pushing to keep the program in place because they say it reduces the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C. The program allows people to exchange their used needles for clean needles. Brumage previously said patients are given 30 clean needles per visit.

Jones said that’s too much. He said he was under the impression that it would be a 1-for-1 exchange.

“We thought it would just be a couple thousand needles (total). You give a needle, you get a needle. That’s exactly what it’s not,” he said.

The city’s needle problem is also tied to the the transient crime problem, Jones said.

“We understand there are going to be needles and drug addicts, but we just don’t want them in our city. We don’t want this to be a recruiting tool and that’s what it’s come down to. People are coming here just for the needles,” he said.

Dr. Michael Brumage

Jones said he knows people go to the health department to get free needles because they’ve admitted it to police.

“We arrest a lot of these people and we interview them. They not only tell us, they laugh about it, and they sell their needles. The police department is closer to this than anybody else. The people are coming from everywhere,” he said.

One person that was interviewed by police told officers they had 240 needles, Jones said.

Brumage claims the department has returned about 88 percent of needles since the program started in Dec. 2015. That’s 528,000 of the 600,000 needles that have been distributed so far, leaving 72,000 needles unaccounted for, but Jones claims there are actually more than 200,000 needles that have been unaccounted for.

During an appearance on Tuesday’s “Talkline”, Brumage defended the program saying the area’s hepatitis B and C rates fell in 2017.

He said finding needles in public places in Charleston is unacceptable, but the program itself is not causing the problem. He said there will still be needles if the program was cut.

Brumage also said the program gives addicts a point of contact for drug recovery. Since the start of the syringe exchange, more than 100 people have entered recovery.