Fairmont, W.Va. (WDTV) - The Marion County Health Department held a panel today to discuss strategies to combat West Virginia's growing opioid problem.
"We have a tremendous problem and if we continue to look the other way, it's going to grow. The first step to solving the problem is recognizing one exists and to put steps in place to solve that," said Lloyd White of the Marion County Health Department.
Several officials, including Mayor Stephen Williams of Huntington, attended the panel to share harm reduction strategies with members of the community.
Mayor Williams outlined Huntington's two year comprehensive plan for battling heroin and explained that proactive strategies are vital to saving lives.
"There's opportunity for these individuals to live and to give back to our society," Williams said.
Harm reduction strategies include things like syringe exchange programs-- places where individuals can receive clean needles in order to prevent the spread of disease. These programs also give people a judgement -free zone to seek help.
"What we're seeing from a public health perspective is an increase in HIV, STDs, Hepatitis B and C. Those are downstream effects from using dirty needles," White said.
Caitlyn Sussman, a social worker at Milan Puskar Health Right, has worked at syringe exchange programs and says she has seen first-hand that these programs can heal.
"Having a non-judgmental atmosphere, a place for people to go that feels comfortable, helps people get closer to where they need to be. It absolutely works," said Sussman.