For the second time in as many weeks, officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Charleston city leaders Wednesday that urgent action is needed to avert a full-scale HIV outbreak.
Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, head of the CDC’s division on HIV/AIDS prevention, shared data with members of Charleston’s public safety committee that showed no relationship between crime and syringe service programs, as well as the settled science on how such programs should run for community benefit.
Daskalakis recommended a three-pronged approach to control the growing spread of HIV in the region: increased testing, ensuring medication and treatment is accessible for those who need it, and making clean syringes widely available for the at-risk populations.
Members of the committee have been tasked with drafting questions for a survey to be distributed to the city’s police officers, firefighters, refuse workers and public grounds employees to get feedback on harm reduction programs, and specifically syringe service programs. The survey was created by a resolution passed by the Charleston City Council earlier this month.
The seven-member public safety committee initially agreed to work together in forming questions for the survey — the results of which are meant to inform forthcoming city legislation — however, at Wednesday’s meeting, council members Bruce King and Shannon Snodgrass said they had formed the questions on their own.
Snodgrass and King, along with committee members Pat Jones, Chuck Overstreet and Deanna McKinney, are sponsors of a proposed amendment that would recriminalize needle distribution within Charleston.
Snodgrass and King wanted committee members to cast one vote approving or disapproving all questions, however, other members — including McKinney and Keeley Steele, who chairs the committee — raised concerns.
“I understand you [King] and [Snodgrass] came up with the questions, but everybody should be able to agree or disagree or amend it,” McKinney said. “I don’t think there should be a problem with that. I don’t think what you want is fair, when only you two came up with the questions.”
Snodgrass and King proposed 12 yes-or-no questions for the survey, asking respondents to share their beliefs on the relationship between syringe service programs and crime, and how they think such programs should be run, as well as if they have first-hand experience with needle litter.
All but two of Snodgrass and King’s proposed questions were accepted with minimal changes.
Also considered by the committee was a list of questions formed by Emily Hanna, who heads the city’s Coordinated Addiction Response Effort, or CARE, office.
Hanna’s questions, created through a collaboration with other members of the CARE office, centered on how much training and prevention was being undertaken by first responders to deal with sharps containers, and asked first responders to share their ideas to combat needle litter.
Those employed in the CARE office work directly with people who are most at-risk for contracting HIV or other bloodborne diseases from drug use, and have worked to build up trust with those individuals whenever possible, Hanna said.
“These are our friends, people we’ve gotten to know and love, not just our clients,” Hanna said in a previous interview. “We consider our work to be harm reduction, as well, and if we really want to help people, the science exists and it’s clear on how to do so.”
Dr. Sue Bisset, president of the state’s Drug Intervention Institute, and Charlee Fox, the institute’s research director, shared with committee members the results of their own recent study on community perception of harm reduction efforts.
Fox, when asked by members if she had any suggestions for their survey, had only one answer: “Take more time, if you can.”