Roanoke City Council members approved plans for a comprehensive harm reduction plan that calls for a needle exchange program.
The proposal now goes to state officials for the final approval; local organizers said the program could be up and running by the end of this summer.
The program has led to debate and controversy; Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones finally gave his approval after changes were made to the plan.
” I think more and more people are realizing that we’re talking about a public health crisis here. This is not something that we’re ever going to solve by locking up people without the treatment that they need. That’s never going to solve this problem,” said Councilman Bill Bestpitch.
The Program Director of the Drop-In Center said the needle exchange program is just a small part of the project, which includes education, mental health referrals and HIV testing.
“It’s something that’s really supposed to be there for anyone who might need access to that service who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get it,” said Colin Dwyer.
Roanoke City Manager Bob Cowell said the program is low-cost but he believes there will be some resistance.
“Somebody is going to go in and pick up their clean syringes and at best they get a brochure? That was never going to cut it. There has to be a person there,” said Cowell. “I don’t think it’s completely embraced by the community. To give you an example of this, I don’t expect this to get approved in Roanoke County, I don’t expect it to get approved in Salem, and yet both of those communities are obviously dealing with the exact same issue.”
Roanoke is expected to the fourth location in the state to get a program with a needle exchange.