Emily Rice Published

Cabell County Commission Approves Audit of Harm Reduction Program

A needle exchange program at the Austin Community Outreach Center in Austin, Ind., is aimed at stopping spread of HIV.

The Cabell County Commission approved a resolution seeking an evaluation and audit of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s syringe exchange program.

Syringe exchanges are widely seen by public health experts as a key measure in preventing the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.

“We feel that our effort has been successful while we search for people who are afflicted with this illness and get them the help they need,” said Dr. Michael E. Kilkenny, executive director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. “So these restrictions have had some impact on our ability to prevent disease.”

The audit of Cabell-Huntington’s program comes over a year after a new state law went into effect, Senate Bill 334, which requires programs offering syringe exchanges to host a number of other harm reduction services, force them to deny clean needles to those who don’t return with their used needles and require them to only serve clients with state IDs in order to operate.

“As a licensed entity we are fully aware that we are subject to review by not only Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification (OHFLAC), who issues our license but also by our main granting organizations through the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) so we are certainly open and willing,” Dr. Kilkenny said. “We are actually even eager to have an inspection and make sure that we are complying with all aspects of the law. We are hopeful that the audit will provide clarity to the county commission.”

Kilkenny noted that the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s syringe exchange program informed national harm reduction strategies and said he sees the audit as an opportunity to show success within the program and inform local citizens about the program’s benefits.

“I think we have established the basic understanding of Appalachian injection drug use and that has been used to inform the national strategy and we have been informed by the national strategy as we work toward that 2030 goal,” Dr. Kilkenny said. “I think that is what they are looking for and I think they will better understand what it is we do and how effective it is.”