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CHR Program in Winchester Faces Uphill Battle

2 October 2019 Winchester News

October 2, 2019

WINCHESTER – Several Winchester City officials are refusing to approve a needle exchange program in the City.

The Comprehensive Harm Reduction program was initialized by the Virginia Department of Health in 2017. Since then several communities have been been approved for needle exchange programs in their area, including the City of Winchester and much of the surrounding Shenandoah Valley.

Winchester Police Chief John Piper and other City officials have refused to authorize the start of a CHR program in Winchester. State law would require officers to arrest individuals coming to the needle exchange program with used needles. The dirty residue leftover in the needles would constitute a felony. Piper and other officials have claimed that more research is needed, and that no program of that nature would be approved without amendments to State law making any violations a misdemeanor or less.

Comprehensive Harm Reduction is a set of public health strategies intended to reduce the negative impact of drug use according to the Virginia Department of Health. The program specifically takes aim at HIV, Hepatitis C, other infections and overdoses among people who use drugs. These programs have been endorsed by the American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health.

Code of Virginia Section 32.1-45.4 allows the State Health Commissioner (Marissa J. Levine) to create local and/or regional CHR programs during a public health emergency. Levine declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2016.

Earlier in 2019, the Harm Mitigation Task Force performed a study in Winchester to analyze the potential impact of a CHR program in the area. They came to the conclusion that a CHR program including a needle exchange would help reduce the public health impact of injection drug use in the area.


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