UVA-Wise student and Healthy Appalachia Institute Research Fellow Logan Baker won a research poster contest at the Virginia Rural Health Association annual conference in Lexington, Virginia on Wednesday.

Baker’s research poster featured work he did last summer examining the topic of Community Perceptions of Comprehensive Harm Reduction in Dickenson County. The Centers for Disease Control ranks Dickenson County as 29th in the nation and second in Virginia as vulnerable to rapid dissemination of HIV and HCV among people who inject drugs.

The Clintwood native set out to assess the perception of comprehensive harm reduction programs and stigma towards people who inject drugs in Dickenson County. Baker explained that comprehensive harm reduction is a set of public health strategies intended to reduce the negative impact of drug use including HIV and HCV, overdose and death among people who are unable or not ready to stop using drugs.

“It’s pretty scary,” Baker said. “I’m from Dickenson County. I grew up in Clintwood. I’ve had family members work in prevention to help others.”

His research showed that some who inject drugs often hide needles in public places so other users can share the needles, which exposes more people to HIV or HCV.

“They tape needles under sinks in public bathrooms or under park benches,” Baker said.

Baker used anonymous surveys and interviews with community stakeholders. Surveys were distributed online and in person, and participants were asked for their zip codes to keep the survey open for Dickenson County residents only.

Out of 153 participants, one in 10 identified as a current or former drug injector. One in two reported knowing a friend of family member who is or was a drug injector. A whopping 90 percent said they knew of someone in the community who was injecting drugs.

About 68 percent of those surveyed had knowledge of CHR programs, and 59 percent said they would strongly support a CHR program. Interestingly, 63 percent agreed a CHR program would reduce the risk of new HIV and HCV, but only 33 percent agreed that a CHR program would decrease injection drug use in the community.

In addition, 83 percent of the participants said they would describe a person who injects drugs as weak verses strong, but 34 percent said they would describe a person who injects drugs as worthless versus deserving. However, 65 percent believethat drug addiction is a disease versus a choice.

Baker said there as a significant, positive correlation between support for CHR programs in participants’ communities belief that the programs would reduce injection drug use.

“What surprised me was there was a decent level of support or knowledge of the CHR programs,” Baker said.