Opportunity House installing drop boxes for used syringes

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Opportunity House Executive Director Matt Kerner speaks at council's Dec. 5 meeting.

BUCKHANNON – A local addiction recovery facility plans to install two drop boxes for the safe disposal of used syringes in public areas in response to a recent incident in which used needles were found in the woods behind the Buckhannon City Park.

Opportunity House Executive Director Matthew Kerner told Buckhannon City Council at its Thursday, Dec. 5 meeting that the center would place drop boxes for used syringes on Madison Street near Jawbone Park and adjacent to the Opportunity House’s Recovery Center on Cleveland Avenue near North Buckhannon Riverfront Park. The boxes will be built so materials can’t be removed from them, Kerner said.

“We will be installing two used syringe drop boxes,” Kerner said. “They’re essentially like the old-school mailboxes that were bolted to the sidewalks, so you can’t get anything back out.”

“We did a lot research, and [we have copies] of a National Institute of Health study that shows drop boxes will reduce found syringes from 95 to 98 percent was what they found …within 200 meters of where the box is,” he added. “That’s in range of the parks, so we figured if we did it, you all (Buckhannon City Council members) wouldn’t have to through all the political blowback.”

The Opportunity’s House’s action comes in response to city Public Works Director Jerry Arnold reporting that a city employee and her young daughter had found a used syringe in the woods behind the Buckhannon City Park at a recent council meeting. Arnold warned parents to be vigilant about their children’s surroundings when playing in public areas.

“It’s basically pretty simple – what’s the problem? Occasionally, we find syringes in parks. What’s the solution? A safe place to put the syringes near the park, but there’s going to be some people that don’t see it that way,” Kerner said.

Mayor David McCauley said substance addiction is a complex epidemic.

“Whatever we can do to abate this problem and nuisance Jerry (Arnold, public works director) reported about issues in the city park, with a couple of syringes had been found … all we can do is keep fighting the good fight,” he said. “It’s an epidemic.”

Kerner said the problem in Buckhannon pales in comparison to how it’s manifested in other, more metropolitan areas of West Virginia, such as Martinsburg.

C.J. Rylands asked if the main drug of choice was heroin.

“Is the issue heroin?” Rylands asked Kerner, who replied that methamphetamine now appears to be more widely used

“We’ve swung from that to methamphetamine about a year ago,” he said. Still, Kerner said, the effects of injecting heroin and other controlled substances linger.

He mentioned a previous Opportunity House house manager who died recently following a long battle with Hepatitis C.

“He contracted Hepatitis C from a dirty needle a couple decades ago, and most insurance companies won’t cover the treatment for Hep C until you reach Stage 3 or Stage 4 liver disease, and that window was so short for him that by the time they were willing to pay for the medication, it was too late,” Kerner said. “And it’s a solvable problem. There’s a lot of communities in this state that are shooting themselves right in the foot by opposing harm reduction programs. The evidence that they work [to stop the transmission of blood-borne pathogens in a community] is overwhelming; it’s not debatable.”

The Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department offers a harm reduction clinic and syringe access program once a month in Buckhannon.

Information coordinator and city grant writer Callie Cronin Sams, who found the used syringes while playing with her daughter at the park, said she didn’t want to leave community members with the impression the parks are “overrun” with needles.

“I definitely think it was great that Jerry brought that up in his last report, but I did think it is worth noting, too, that [my daughter] is almost four now, and we’re probably at City Park at least once a week, and that’s the first time that’s happened,” Sams said. “So it’s good to be vigilant, but I don’t think it’s like the park is overrun. It’s still safe to go to the parks, it’s fun to be outside at the parks.”

Councilman Robbie Skinner said, “But it’s also very important for parents to know the surroundings of their kids because at four, she’s quite mobile, and if you’d had your head turned for just two seconds, she could have picked that up and thought it was neat.”

Kerner also reported the Opportunity House was about halfway finished with research it’s conducting through funding from the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program-planning grant it received earlier this year.

The grant funds developing local stakeholder partnerships, conducting needs assessments and developing plans to implement and sustain substance use disorder (including opioid use disorder) prevention, treatment and recovery interventions, according to a previous article.

“Our goals through this process will be to expand services by becoming licensed behavioral health provider and increasing our residential capacity,” Kerner said.