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ACLU in West Virginia sues over needle exchange law

June 25, 2021 GMT
File - In this March 9, 2021 file photo, Solutions Oriented Addiction Response organizer Brooke Parker holds an HIV testing kit in Charleston, W.Va. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued preliminary findings of an investigation into a West Virginia county with one of the nation’s highest spikes in HIV cases among intravenous drug users. The findings showed emergency departments and inpatient medical personnel rarely conducted HIV testing on intravenous drug users who were patients. (AP Photo/John Raby)
File - In this March 9, 2021 file photo, Solutions Oriented Addiction Response organizer Brooke Parker holds an HIV testing kit in Charleston, W.Va. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued preliminary findings of an investigation into a West Virginia county with one of the nation’s highest spikes in HIV cases among intravenous drug users. The findings showed emergency departments and inpatient medical personnel rarely conducted HIV testing on intravenous drug users who were patients. (AP Photo/John Raby)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia on Friday filed a lawsuit opposing a law that would instate stringent requirements on needle exchange programs in the state.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed the bill in April over the objections of critics who said it will restrict access to clean needles amid a spike in HIV cases.

The bill requires 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. Participants also must show an identification card to get a syringe. Advocates see the regulations as onerous.

Supporters said the legislation would help those addicted to opioids get connected to health care services fighting substance abuse. Some Republicans lawmakers had said the changes were necessary because some needle exchange programs were “operating so irresponsibly” that they were causing syringe litter.

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The ACLU-WV went to court to prevent it from taking effect on July 9.

The group called it “one of the most restrictive state laws governing syringe exchange services in the nation” and that it would likely lead to more HIV cases and the spread of other bloodborne illnesses.

The restrictions “will cost lives and deprive West Virginians of numerous 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 take effect amid one of the nation’s highest spikes in HIV cases related to intravenous drug use. The surge, clustered primarily around the capital of Charleston and the city of Huntington, is being attributed at least in part to the cancellation in 2018 of a needle exchange program.

It led to an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that this week found emergency departments and inpatient medical personnel rarely conducted HIV testing on intravenous drug users in Kanawha County.

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

The CDC describes syringe programs as “safe, effective, and cost-saving.”