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WILLIAMSON — The Mingo County Health Department will soon be officially recognized as a harm reduction center by the state of West Virginia.

SB 334 established a licensing program within the state Department of Health and Human Resources for harm reduction programs operating syringe exchange programs.

All new and existing programs will need to apply to the Office for Health Facility Licensure and Certification. Programs will need support from the majority of the county commission and the majority of the governing body of a municipality.

Health Department administrator Keith Blankenship told the Mingo County Commission Nov. 3 that the only thing still needed for the Health Department to be officially recognized as a harm reduction center under current state law was a signed resolution from the commission supporting the project.

“We’ve got some exciting news and some new projects going on at the Health Department, and we want to get your support,” Blankenship said.

“We want to pursue, but we need full support of the communities to become licensed. We already have resolutions from all five of the municipalities in Mingo County and just need yours.”

Blankenship said the Mingo County Health Department is planning a partnership with the Williamson Health and Wellness Center to provide additional services outlined in SB 334, including advanced medical care, mental health services and a needle exchange program.

This partnership will also include a 24-hour crisis hotline for those needing substance abuse counseling or mental health services.

Mingo County Health Department would become one of only 10 harm reduction programs in the state, according to Blankenship.

Commissioner Diann Hannah, who frequently speaks out on the addiction crisis in the county, supported the need for the program in Mingo.

“I am constantly being asked if there is a program in the county that does not require jail,” Hannah said. “I tell them the Health Department has a new program and send them your way. We need recovery more than we need jails.”

The Commission unanimously approved signing a resolution in support of the program.

SB 334 was signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice in April after more than 300 healthcare professionals urged him to veto the bill. Programs must offer a full array of harm reduction services, like referrals to treatment and HIV testing, and operate toward a goal of 1:1. A West Virginia ID will be required, and syringes must be “unique” to the program.

The bill has caused harm reduction programs to close in other counties, including the Mercer County Health Department in September.

HD Media reporter Nancy Peyton primarily covers news in Lincoln County.

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