ACLU in West Virginia sues needle exchange law

CHARLESTON, Va. (AP) – The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia on Friday filed a lawsuit against a law that would institute strict requirements on needle exchange programs in the state.

Republican Governor Jim Justice signed the bill in April despite objections from critics who said it would restrict access to clean needles amid a spike in HIV cases.

The bill requires licenses for syringe collection and distribution programs. Operators should offer a range of outreach health services, including overdose prevention education and referrals to drug treatment programs. Participants must also present an ID card to obtain a syringe. Advocates see the regulations as onerous.

Supporters have said the legislation will help opioid addicts connect to drug addiction health services. Some Republican lawmakers had said the changes were necessary because some needle exchange programs “worked so irresponsibly” that they caused needle waste.

The ACLU-WV went to court to prevent it from coming into force on July 9.

The group called it “one of the most restrictive state laws governing needle exchange services in the country” and that it would likely lead to more HIV cases and the spread of other blood-borne diseases. .

The restrictions “will cost lives and deprive West Virginia of many constitutional rights, including due process and equal protection among others,” ACLU-WV legal director Loree Stark said in a statement. “The bill should be declared unconstitutional and stopped. “

The governor’s office did not return an email seeking comment.

The law would come into force amid one of the country’s highest peaks in HIV cases linked to intravenous drug use. The increase, mostly concentrated around the capital Charleston and the city of Huntington, is attributed at least in part to the cancellation in 2018 of a needle exchange program.

This led to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation which this week found emergency departments and inpatient medical staff rarely performed HIV tests on injecting drug users in Kanawha County.

Previously, city leaders and first responders complained that the program in Kanawha County resulted in an increase in the number of needles left in public places and abandoned buildings, and it was shut down.

The CDC describes syringe programs as “safe, effective and economical.”

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