Clinic will go forward with harm reduction program, without syringe distribution

Program to launch Oct. 2 and will include treatment for HIV, hepatitis C

By: - August 10, 2023 4:56 pm
A green for the the Women's Health Center of West Virginia stands in front of the beige brick building.

The Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, located on Charleston’s West Side. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)

The Women’s Health Center of West Virginia says it will go forward with a program meant to lessen the harmful effects of drug use, minus a key component — sterile syringe distribution. 

Charleston City Council earlier this week voted 17 to 9 to deny a request from the West Side clinic to support its application to the state to distribute syringes. Support from both the city and the county commission is a state requirement for a license to distribute syringes. 

In an email Thursday afternoon, the former abortion provider said it will formally launch a harm reduction program Oct. 2. 

“Make no mistake — we’re still doing harm reduction. We will not leave people who use drugs behind,” Director Katie Quiñonez and Harm Reduction Coordinator Iris Sidikman said in the email.

“Harm reduction is more than sterile syringes,” they said. “While the mayor and city council voted down our program that complied with city and state restrictions, that will not stop us from helping people who use drugs in our community stay safe and healthy.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, syringe distribution programs can reduce the occurrence of HIV and hepatitis, improve public safety through safe needle provision and disposal, and are not associated with an increase in crime. The program would have been the second in Kanawha County — where HIV cases tied to injection drug use have increased in recent years — and the first on the city’s West Side. 

The vote followed a public hearing about the proposal late last month, during which 13 people spoke in support of the clinic’s proposal, and 7 spoke against it. 

After the vote Monday, Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin told reporters she supports harm reduction but had problems with the location of the proposed syringe distribution and felt rushed by council members who supported it. The mayor had intended for council members to vote on the application at the Aug. 21 meeting, she said. 

“I haven’t had time to do my due diligence, as did a lot of people in this room tonight who voted no, who shared that with me,” Goodwin said Monday. “If you’re not going to give us time to have conversations and have meetings, that’s not something that I can support.”

In the statement, the clinic said the council’s decision was rooted in “fear, fragile egos, misinformation, and stigma.”

The harm reduction program will offer several services, including naloxone and overdose response training, HIV and hepatitis C rapid testing, referrals to primary care, behavioral health care and substance use disorder treatment (including medication assisted treatment), safer use supplies, fentanyl test strips and wound care.

In addition, the health care provider will offer HIV and hepatitis C treatment in its clinic, Sidikman said. 

“We’re currently working on getting the protocols together for it, but our plan is to offer HIV and hep C rapid testing for free as part of the harm reduction program, and then in the clinic we are going to be offering HIV and hepatitis C treatment so people can do all of it in one place,” they said. 

Sidikman said the clinic will help patients navigate the Medicaid program, which will cover both treatments. 


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Lori Kersey
Lori Kersey

Lori Kersey is a reporter with a decade of experience reporting in West Virginia. She covers state government for West Virginia Watch.