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VA bill battles diseases spread through injection drug abuse

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According to the CDC, cases of Hepatitis-C and Hepatitis-B are increasing at an explosive rate in Aappalachia. The cause is opioid-use through shared syringes. Now a new law going through the Virginia General Assembly aims to mitigate the spread of disease.

However some, like Russell County sheriff Steve Dye, believes it would serve to enable.

"Probably 90-percent of the crime that we deal with one way or another is drug related," Dye said.

Dye also chairs We Care Russell County, a faith-based group committed to the rehabilitation of drug addicts. He said he would do anything to help a drug-addict seeking to get clean, but he can't get behind a program that trades clean needles for used ones.

"I don't want to do anything that would be seen as enabling, I don't want to see anything that would be seen as condoning substance abuse," Dye said.

Local health leaders dispute that it would enable abuse.LENOWISCO health director Dr. Sue Cantrell said Central Appalachia is particularly at risk for blood borne diseases, and has seen a sharp increase in Hepatitis-C and Hepatitis-B.

"Syringe services programs, how we refer to syringe exchange, are proven effective ways, proven in both reducing the communicable diseases that are related to IV drug use," Dr. Cantrell said, "as well as in the cost of care, so they're cost effective."

She points out data from other states who allow it show exchanges can help keep drug users healthier. She said keeping them healthy longer gives them a better chance of reaching a desire to get clean.

"So they come in and get some cleans syringes, and return their used ones in the sharps containers, and at that time they're referred for treatment services, they're screened for Hepatitis and HIV," Dr. Cantrell said, "and appropriate vaccinations or referrals are made to reduce the risk of those infections."

But state delegate Israel O'Quinn said the government shouldn't get involved in needle exchanges.

"If that's something that's going to happen, I think there are better ways to do it rather than the General Assembly getting out on this limb and deciding that this is a program we're not only going to condone but are going to fund," O'Quinn said.

Right now in Virginia and Tennessee, syringes are considered paraphernalia. The possession and exchange of needles is illegal in both states.

HB 2317 has passed through the House Appropriations Committee and is expected on the House floor soon.

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