COLUMN:Could Mayor Steve's Support of Needle Exchange Hurt His Re-election Chances?

Updated 4 years ago by David Williams, HNN Freelance Correspondent

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams has been a staunch supporter of The Cabell Huntington Health Department's needle exchange program. He considers it one of the major forces in his response to the drug epidemic. But as many Huntington citizens are growing weary of free needles being handed out to drug users, one has to wonder if his devotion to the program will hurt any re-election plans has he looks toward being the first Huntington mayor to win three terms as mayor.

An investigative report done by WSAZ hints that many drug users are being lured to the area by the promise of free needles. Charleston Mayor Danny Jones told WSAZ,"Huntington apparently has embraced it, Here's Huntington's problem, and they don't even know it. All they're going to end up doing is managing needles."

Charleston has done away with the program. WSAZ quoted Charleston Police Chief Steve Cooper as saying that property crime is down almost half since the program was suspended.

Many Huntington residents have taken Facebook pages like Huntington City Watch to voice their displeasure with the program and many hold Mayor Steve responsible for dirty needles littering the streets of Huntington. Scott Caserta who has announced that he will be running for Mayor of Huntington in 2020 said, "Mayor Williams has used his position as Mayor to allow the needle exchange program to operate outside the laws of the City regarding Drug Paraphernalia. Our City has been marketed as a “Safe City” for drug use against the will of the people. The Cabell Huntington Health Dept overstepped it’s bounds when they decided to issue Heroine Kits along with free needle to any drug user who could make the trip into Huntington. Unfortunately, their actions and the lack of action by Mayor Williams has only accelerated the drug use problems and has done little to nothing to help the actual addict. Now that the parties involved have flooded our City with folks suffering from addiction they now want to ramp up the addition of recovery centers. Where does the revenue stop and the actual help begin? Mayor Williams has instigated a cycle of enabling for recovery without considering the damage to our City or even the addict themselves unfortunately, I feel our local government feels there is money to be made in the suffering of those addicted. Huntington has been lied to."

As Alligator Jackson I have recently defended the program. In my many walks through parts of the coty of Huntington I have seen dozens of orange syringe lds but very few needles themselves. This leads me to believe that many needles are being properly discarded as the lids shows they are being used. The Health Department as also made changes to the program to ensure that the exchange is a true one to one exchange. Rolly Bevins is a user who visits the exchange. Rolly says, "There are a lot of users with HIV. Users get desperate. They will use dirty needles if it is all they have...if it keeps them from being sick. If you take away the needles, HIV will explode."

One thing is for sure and that is the drug epidemic in Huntington will be a major issue in Huntington in 2020. Not only do many voters have a strong opinion but many people that are pro or con to the program and usually do not vote may be driven to vote to support their side. While the election is still over two years away, it could shape up to be free needle supporter Steve Williams against Scott Caserta, a man who has vowed to end the program.