West Virginia Senate passes syringe exchange regulation bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Senate passed a bill Tuesday to regulate needle exchange programs.

The bill passed on a 22-11 vote. One senator was absent. It now moves to the House of Delegates.

The bill would require licenses for syringe collection and distribution programs. Operators would have to offer an array of health outreach services, including overdose prevention education and substance abuse treatment program referrals.

Such programs are designed to help contain the spread of infectious diseases that sometimes linger in used syringes.

Opponents say the bill’s stringent measures would force existing exchange programs to close. That includes requiring a majority of a county commission

“Public health has a mandate to prevent and control the spread of communicable diseases,” said Democratic Sen. Ron Stollings, a Boone County physician. “They will not be able to do that with this bill passing. We’re pouring gasoline on the fire with this bill right here.”

The state health department shut down the Kanawha County health department’s syringe program in 2018. While local health officials said the program reduced hepatitis B and C rates and helped drug users get treatment, city leaders and first responders complained it led to an increase in needles in public places and abandoned buildings.

Under the bill sponsored by Putnam County Republican Eric Tarr, a sheriff and county commission would have to sign off on such programs. In addition, people using them must have a West Virginia driver’s license.