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Episode 54: West Virginia, America’s Worst Overdose and HIV Hotspot with Lauren Peace

There’s a “twindemic” racing across the state of West Virginia: Covid-19 has collided with an outbreak of HIV and hepatitis C. If that’s not bad enough, West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the nation. The CDC recently called the HIV outbreak in Kanawha County, West Virginia the “most concerning” in the country. Make no mistake, this outbreak is preventable, and is largely driven by the failure of local governments to provide syringe service programs to people who use drugs.

Even worse, West Virginia lawmakers are actively trying to pass legislation to further restrict harm reduction programs across the state. Covering this disaster of health and reactionary politics is Lauren Peace, a local investigative reporter at the nonprofit news outlet Mountain State Spotlight. Lauren has been providing vital on the ground coverage of embattled harm reduction programs—programs like Solutions Oriented Addiction Response (SOAR) that are working against a toxic backlash to prevent more HIV cases from spreading and save lives.

This episode is a one-on-one conversation with co-host Zachary Siegel and Lauren, who discusses what it’s like on the ground in West Virginia and the endless battle to put out science-based information in the face of stigma and misguided narratives about harm reduction. Plus, a bit of news at the top of the show about Biden’s pick for ONDCP director (read Zach’s piece in Filter) and Senate Bill 334, a piece of harmful legislation moving through West Virginia’s legislature.

You can follow Lauren on Twitter: @LaurenMPeace and read her work at Mountain State Spotlight.

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Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel
Co-producer: Garrett Farah
Music: Glass Boy / Lasers
Intro voice: Jenny Schaye
Image: Bill Dickinson via Flickr // edit: Troy Farah