December 04, 2020

Public health and politics

 Most people would agree that West Virginia is pretty close to being Ground Zero for the opioid crisis after being virtually cluster bombed for years by pharmaceutical companies dumping highly addictive drugs around the state. 

As the supply of pills declined, more people switched to injecting opioids, which of necessity involves needles...and which has become a political hot button issue in places like Charleston, WV. In 2018, the city shut down the needle exchange program operated by the Kanawha Charleston Health Department.

Of course, people with substance use disorder don't stop using when the supply of clean needles goes away, which can lead to all kinds of horror stories, including an underground market in used needles. It's a classic example of what economists call inelastic demand. 

What could possibly go wrong with that scenario? 

A grassroots group called Solutions Oriented Addiction Response (SOAR) took up the slack, which until recently offered sterile syringes, Naloxone, condoms, snacks, HIV testing, conversation and such until they came under fire from city officials. They're still around, although they've stopped syringe distribution.

This excellent report by WV Public Broadcasting shows what can happen when public health is politicized. And you may learn more about reusing needles than you ever expected to.

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