A new structure was unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday in Charleston. It wasn’t a school, business or hospital. Instead, local activists celebrated a humble disposal box, intended to collect used syringes.
A grassroots HIV and recovery group installed Charleston’s second sturdy sharp container amid ongoing concerns over the city’s growing HIV outbreak.
“Let this be the first action to get us united on a path to meeting this growing need for expanding harm-reduction in our community,” said Stacy Kay with Solutions Oriented Addiction Response, or SOAR.
Kay said SOAR will be responsible for clearing out the box on a regular basis.
This event comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that says the capital city needs more clean needles to curb the spread of HIV, which has gotten worse in recent years.
The CDC’s recommendation didn’t come as a surprise to SOAR and those that study infectious diseases. But state and local laws passed this year do limit who can give out clean needles.
SOAR shut down its health fairs days before the city ordinance passed. The group continues to criticize the city’s move.
“We simply cannot punish those who are hurting the most, criminalize the helpers, and hope that this will all just go away,” Kay said.
The CDC’s findings also say the city could use more public sharp containers for IV drug users to properly dispose of used needles.
“It helps to do something,” Kay said.
State epidemiologist Shannon McBee told WVPB she thinks the city and state can get behind these recommendations.
“I think there’s options for us to minimize improper or unsafe disposal of used syringes within the current context of our laws,” McBee said.
The only other sturdy sharps container in Charleston is outside the local health department. McBee, activists and the CDC pointed out that there is a constant law enforcement presence near that container, which could deter folks from disposing of their syringes there.
The new box is located on Charleston’s East Side near a park commemorating those who have died of AIDS.
“The struggle to overcome AIDS started in an ocean of stigma,” said Carl Maxwell, the president of the Living AIDS Memorial Garden. “Too many people thought that the people who first acquired AIDS were unworthy or somehow deserved it. That wasn’t true then, and it’s certainly not true now. We’re excited to be a part of the solution.”