June Leffler Published

Charleston Activists Call For Local Health Emergency

joe again.jpg

Charleston activists are set to hold a demonstration this weekend that they are calling an SOS. Their plea is for Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin to declare a local public health emergency concerning the spread of HIV, and the increase in opioid overdoses.

“All we’re asking for is the city to acknowledge the crisis we’re in, so we can face it head on. It’s well within the Mayor’s power to declare a public health emergency,” said Cathy Kunkel in a news release, one of the organizers of the demonstration, in a news release.

The two public health crises are intertwined. Most newly diagnosed HIV cases in Kanawha County are among those who inject IV drugs. Those in the community who operate harm-reduction programs have tried to curb the spread of HIV transmission through sterile syringe programs and regular HIV testing. They also offer Naloxone, an overdose reversal drug, and referrals to substance use disorder treatment as well.

More than 200 people died from an opioid overdose in Kanawha County last year. That’s about a 30 percent increase from 2019, a trend that’s reflected across the whole state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said Kanawha County faces the “most concerning” HIV outbreak in the nation.

More than 30 health and social justice organizations are participating in the demonstration, with speakers from the Partnership of African American Churches and the Ryan White Foundation.

Solutions Oriented Addiction Response, or SOAR, organized the event. The grassroots group had been organizing health fairs that gave out sterile syringes. The group stopped those fairs due to public pressure and a city ordinance restricting syringe dispersal.

Demonstrators will gather at a riverfront park known as Magic Island from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday.