Upshur leaders seek advice on needle program

BUCKHANNON — After the Upshur County Commission received a petition with hundreds of names requesting the new needle access program to be suspended until guidelines are in effect, officials sought legal advice regarding the commission’s authority over the Buckhannon-Upshur Health Department.

During Thursday’s Upshur County Commission meeting, officials announced what advice they received.

During the commission’s June 29 meeting, residents crowded in the commission chambers expressing concern for the recently implemented harm reduction program. In April the Buckhannon-Upshur Health Department, in partnership with Milan Puskar Health Right, implemented the 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.

Since the announcement, the community has been divided on whether the program is beneficial for intravenous drug users or just a step back with the state’s opioid epidemic.

During last week’s commission meeting, Susan Foster, who has voiced opposition to the program, asked what the commission’s role is regarding the county health department.

Commission president Sam Nolte explained the commission appoints the health board; however, the board makes their own decisions internally.

Because county officials were unsure if they had any authority over the health department, Nolte advised that the commission would seek legal clarification.

On Thursday, assistant county administrative Tabitha Perry stated she had been in contact with William Swann, an attorney with Kay Castro & Chaney PLLC.

“And he reviewed over West Virginia code, and he has confirmed that as the Upshur County Commission you cannot have authority or control over the local health department … ,” she said.

The Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department also held its monthly meeting Thursday night. Because the department was expecting a large turnout of folks speaking in regard to the needle access program, the meeting was moved to the Event Center at Brushy Fork. A full story on the board of health meeting will be published Saturday.

In other news, the commissioners:

• Voted to sign a contract in order to receive the STOP Violence Women Act grant with the commission being awarded $27,618. These funds provide for the enhancement and the continuation of the Upshur County STOP team to improve the criminal justice system’s response to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence.

• Approved and signed a West Virginia Voluntary Remediation agreement for investigation and remediation activities for the Upshur County Youth Camp Archery range project.

• Approved and signed the Verdin Company Tower Clock Order form in the amount of $12,195 for the repair of the clock tower.

• The next commission meeting will be at 9 a.m. July 19 at the Upshur County Courthouse.