Crowd expected to comment on needle program

BUCKHANNON – Anticipating a large crowd will attend, the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department has relocated this week’s board of health meeting to a larger venue.

In April the Buckhannon-Upshur Health Department, in partnership with Milan Puskar Health Right, implemented a harm reduction program in which syringes, Naxalone, equipment for injection, proper disposal containers, wound treatment, counseling and information on drug treatment programs are offered to clients the second Thursday of every month.

Sue McKisic, nurse director of Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, said she is expecting a number of folks opposing the program to attend Thursday’s meeting. To accommodate the expected attendance the board meeting has been moved its monthly meeting from its original location to the Event Center at Brushy Fork. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m.

“These people that are in opposition of (the harm reduction program) told us at a meeting that we had on June 19 at the physician’s office center that they would be attending,” she said. “They also mentioned that during the last county commission meeting that took place that they would be attending, and our office is not large enough to hold everybody.”

Though McKisic is expecting folks to speak against the program, she said “hopefully there will be just as many in attendance for it.”

On Thursday, folks wishing to address the board members will have the opportunity to do so within a specific length of time, which McKisic said the board chair will determine.

“The board itself will be answering no questions, as (is) my understanding,” she said. “We are going to listen to their concerns, write down what we feel is important for this program from their concerns and go from there.”

McKisic said the board will not be taking any action Thursday and will not be making “a hasty decision.”

Since the announcement in April, some residents have described the program as the county taking a step back in the fight against the opioid epidemic, despite Milan Puskar and the health department’s argument that the syringe access program is not intended to encourage drug use.

“We’re following West Virginia state laws that we are to provide basic public health, and the number one thing listed in West Virginia state code Chapter 16 … is the prevention and control of communicable diseases,” said McKisic.

Communicable diseases include Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV and any sexually transmitted disease, which are common among intravenous drug users who share needles.

“And if (intravenous drug users) are sharing needles, well then they’re sharing their disease,” she said.

During the June 28 Upshur County Commission meeting, several residents crowded in the commission chambers asking commissioners how to suspend the harm reduction program. Buckhannon City Council member Dave Thomas said he thought it would be wise to approach the health department’s board members at their upcoming meeting, set for Thursday.

“What we need to do is get everybody in this room and other people to go to the health board meeting and ask them to suspend this program,” he said during the commission meeting.