CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The City of Charleston has determined that ACLU-WV client Solutions Oriented Addiction Response of West Virginia (SOAR) is not in violation of city or state law in conducting its harm reduction program.

SOAR is the only program in Kanawha County that follows a needs-based model for harm reduction — an evidence-based approach supported by leading public health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more than 120 medical professionals throughout West Virginia. The needs-based approach is the model that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources in 2018 noted is “best at achieving the goal of reaching as close to 100 percent coverage as possible.”

Unfortunately, SOAR was forced to suspend some of its services for more than 6 weeks following sensationalist media reports in October that alleged the program was violating local and state laws. Today’s announcement from the City puts that question to rest.

“We’re happy that the Charleston Police Department has concluded its investigation and reached a determination that confirms what we’ve known all along—that SOAR’s services are not in violation of the law,”  ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark said. “With this issue finally resolved, our client can continue its work providing these much-needed services to our community.”

As part of its program, SOAR also coordinates the largest naloxone distribution hub in the county, distributing nearly 6,000 naloxone doses since the pandemic reached West Virginia. SOAR has also recorded an average of two overdose reversals a day since April 2020 from the people its trained and equipped.

The following is a joint statement from the SOAR team:

“It’s been an anxious two months, and a heartbreaking two months. It hurt us to have to turn people away while we took a break from full services to let most of this investigation play out, and it almost certainly led to the further spread of HIV in our community.

“That said, we’re grateful this investigation is behind us and that our community can now come together to recommit to harm reduction in Charleston. We’ve paid a dear price for ignoring this issue for two yearsForty-seven new HIV cases since 2019, 1,749 new chronic Hep C cases since 2018, and another family member lost to this world every three days. Just in Kanawha County.

“We’re excited to return to services in broad daylight and to work with the City of Charleston and our community on ideas to address syringe litter, save lives, and prevent the needless spread of disease. SOAR is committed to protecting our whole community.”