ACLU sues West Virginia over needle exchange law

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The ACLU of West Virginia filed a lawsuit to halt a West Virginia law that imposes heavy restrictions on needle exchange services, which provide clean needles to those who inject drugs to prevent more serious health complications from dirty needles.

Senate Bill 334, which was signed into law this year and goes into effect July 9, puts restrictions on counties that operate these programs. Before any needle exchange service, the law requires that a majority of the county commissioners approve the program and requires anyone who operates a program be licensed with the Department of Health and Human Resources.

The law allows a licensing fee up to $500 and requires the needle exchange provider be part of a harm reduction program that offers a variety of other services. They must also offer vaccinations, HIV screenings, birth control, overdose prevention supplies and education, referrals to substance use treatment programs, one-to-one needle exchanges and a series of other services.

Although the law’s supporters argued this would provide safer services to those who use needle exchange programs, its opponents warned that it will force a lot of other suppliers to shut down because they will be unable to comply with all of the new rules.

“If allowed to become law, SB 334 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.”

According to the lawsuit, the regulatory agency, OHFLAC cannot promulgate rules until the act goes into effect. For this reason, the ACLU argues the service providers will not receive prior notice for what conduct is sufficient for compliance, which is required by the constitution. For this reason, many service providers will be forced to shut down in fear that they may be subject to harsh penalties if they are unintentionally violating somes of the rules.

The lawsuit also alleges aspects of the bill violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the one-object rule of the West Virginia Constitution.

“This bill is not good for the people of West Virginia,” Laura Jones, the executive director of Health Right in Morgantown, said in a statement. Jones is one of the plaintiffs represented by the ACLU.

“We have a commitment to the participants we serve through our harm reduction program,” Jones said. “This bill will prevent us from fulfilling our commitment to use CDC best practices to protect our community from outbreaks of HIV and other infectious diseases.”

The lawsuit requests that the judge immediately halt the enforcement of the legislation, pending the outcome of the case.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources did not respond to a request for comment from The Center Square.

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