Harm Reduction aims to prevent drug-related diseases

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Charles “C.K.” Babcock, clinical assistant professor at the Marshall School of Pharmacy is involved greatly with the Harm Reduction Program in Huntington, West Virginia.

The Harm Reduction program aims to save lives by reducing negative consequences and promoting health and well being, among individuals impacted by drug abuse and addiction. The program is a collaboration between different organizations in Huntington; the police department, Recovery Point, the hospital, recovery coaches and Cabell County Drug Court.

The main goal of the program is not to enable users, but to help them stay clean.

“We’ve accepted we have a problem and we wanted to do something about that problem,” Babcock said.

The Harm Reduction Program educates, has a needle exchange and prevents the spreading of diseases throughout the city of Huntington. The clinic helps patients with Hepatitis and other drug related issues every day. Fortunately for patients, there is a vaccine for Hepatitis B, but there is not one for Hepatitis C.

“Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll and you really can’t get it from rock n’ roll,” Babcock said when asked about Hepatitis C transmission.

Even though Hepatitis C cannot be cured, the clinic is able to educate patients about using substances in a clean way to help prevent infection and ultimately transmission.

Huntington citizens are using needles to shoot up heroin. Used needles should not be shared and should be turned into the clinic at the needle exchange program. Dirty syringes just thrown onto the ground can be dangerous and cause a non-user serious harm.

“My mom was picking up trash in our backyard before her grandkids went out to play one day and found three used needles,” said Huntington native, Jenny Dean.

“She actually picked them up without knowing what they were at first and put them in a baggie to take to the health department after she had called them about it,” Dean said. “She was locking the door and one of them went through the bag and pricked her finger. She then had to go to the health department and get tested for Hepatitis and HIV.”

The needle exchange program is offered to keep incidents like this from happening in neighborhoods around the city. Cleanliness can ultimately help the city become safer. “The needle exchange program is very good for Huntington to try and eliminate the spread of disease,” Dean said. “We also need affordable treatment centers where people seeking help can get it even if they don’t have the money to pay for it.”

The clinic at the Cabell Huntington Health Department is anonymous for users, but they do ask patients for their zip code. The clinic asks patients their zip codes so they can track their progress and figure out where the majority of the users are coming from. According to Babcock, they have not even encountered the drug addiction problem from the worst parts of town yet.

On January 27, the clinic saw over 130 patients. Users that go to the clinic and get educated about how the use of clean needles prevents infection will also learn that it is not only easier but cheaper.

An infection can be costly and clean needles can help prevent an infection from occurring. One case of HIV can cost up to half a million dollars to treat.

The clinic makes it financially affordable for all who come in to be treated. “The patients that come in will tell you they are addicted and will tell you they aren’t bad people,” Babcock said. “They want to get better they just don’t know how to get there.”

Heroin specifically has become a major drug issue in Huntington.

“The southern coalfields have had this problem for a long time,” Babcock said.

The Huntington Police Department has joined forces with the Harm Reduction Program because HPD officials said they want Huntington to be a better place.

While the officers do enforce the law, they are trying to encourage people to use drugs cleanly.

The clinic at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department is still learning and adapting to helping the needs of the patients that come in. Clinic workers are trying to touch on everything they can so they can treat everyone who comes in.

Prescription opioids are the most serious drug threat in West Virginia. Nine out of 10 drug addictions begin with prescription pain pills. Prescription drugs are given to a patient for treatment reasons and then after their pain meds run out, they often turn to street drugs to imitate the effects of prescribed medication.

With prescription drugs being a gateway to hardcore drugs like heroin, the clinic is experimenting with a drug known as Naloxone. Naloxone is used to reverse the effects of narcotic drugs. Too much of an opioid, like heroin can cause an overdose which causes users to stop breathing, usually ending in a fatality.

Naloxone is used to tell a patient’s brain to breathe again during an overdose. Naloxone is not harmful to the body and has little to no side effects. The clinic hopes to be able to give out the drug in the future. 

A downfall to the occurring drug problem is that in this area there are not enough rehab facilities and the ones that are available all have a waiting list.

“It’s kind of discouraging but at least they can stay clean in the meantime,” Babcock said.

The Harm Reduction program hopes they can at least assist users who are seeking out help until they are able to get into a rehab facility. Huntington officials are doing everything they possibly can to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV.

The Harm Reduction Program in Huntington has been open for four months and has already seen over 700 people.

Since the Harm Reduction Program has started in Huntington, other cities in West Virginia have followed suit. Charleston, Wheeling and Morgantown all have now implemented a Harm Reduction Program.

So far, the clinic workers said they see their progress as a win-win. Marshall University Joan C. Edwards school of pharmacy and school of medicine students are working in the clinic to learn and assist with research and addicts. Babcock said he really wants to start seeing a change in the community.

“I’m a West Virginia boy, proud to be a West Virginia boy,” said Babcock. “I love this state.”

Babcock hosts a state certified Naloxone course at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department every Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Logan Parkulo can be contacted at [email protected]

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