About 33% of Charleston police officers, firefighters and public ground employees responded to a survey seeking their input on harm reduction programs, specifically syringe service programs, as city council looks to move forward with legislation that could ban some of those programs.
The survey, organized by the city’s Public Safety Committee, was sent to 409 employees, with 136 opting to respond. The survey included 11 yes/no questions and two open response questions. First responders were asked their opinions of crime statistics tied to syringe service programs and drug use, their experiences with needle litter, how they think these health services should be run, and whether they believe there is a need for more harm reduction services in the city.
In the survey, 113 respondents said they believe the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s syringe service program, which began operations in 2015 before being shut down in 2018, led to an increase in crime. According to FBI crime statistics, save for a slight increase in 2016 aligning with nationwide trends, both violent crime and personally property crime decreased in Charleston during that time.
Asked whether the Health Department’s needle program was good for the city, 118 of the respondents answered ‘no’. Twenty-three respondents reported being stuck by a needle while on duty.
Charleston City Council passed a resolution last month to implement this survey for city first responders. The findings are meant to inform incoming legislation that could limit harm reduction programs operating in the city. Meanwhile, the state Legislature is also entertaining legislation that could lead to the closure of some syringe service programs.
Syringe service programs are a proven strategy for decreasing bloodborne diseases tied to injected drug use, like HIV, hepatitis and endocarditis. Charleston is currently facing “the most concerning” HIV outbreak in the nation tied to people who inject drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.