Judge temporarily halts bill to restrict needle exchanges in West Virginia

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New laws that restrict needle exchanges in West Virginia will be temporarily halted, pending the outcome of a lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers ruled.

Chambers ruled in favor of the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union’s request for an immediate temporary injunction to halt the enforcement of the law, pending the outcome of a civil lawsuit that claims the law and its enforcement would violate the state and the U.S. constitutions.

“We’re encouraged by this decision from the court,” ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark said in a statement. “This harmful, constitutionally flawed bill should never be allowed to take effect. Harm reduction saves lives.”

The judge ruled that the ACLU is likely to succeed on the merits of the case and that blocking the bill from going into effect could prevent irreparable harm on the organizations clients that operate needle exchange services.

Needle exchange programs provide clean needles to drug users who inject drugs into their bodies. The programs are designed to prevent the users from causing more serious harm to their bodies, such as getting infections from dirty needles.

Senate Bill 334, which would have become law on July 9, put heavy restrictions on the needle exchange providers that opponents say would force many of them to shut down. The bill’s supporters said the restrictions would ensure safer programs.

The law would force needle exchange providers to be licensed with the state and have their program approved by the majority of the county commissioners in the area in which they operate, even if they have been providing these services in the past. The law would allow an application fee up to $500 and require the providers to also offer a series of other services in conjunction with the needle exchange programs.

According to the ACLU, the law would go into effect before the state offered adequate guidance for the providers to ensure they followed the law. The lawsuit stated that many providers would shut down out of fear they would face penalties for inadvertently breaking the law and others may be forced to shut down because they do not have the resources to comply with the new requirements.

Some of the new requirements include one-to-one needle exchanges and only allowing a group to provide these services if it also provides HIV screenings, birth control, overdose prevention supplies and education, referrals to substance use treatment programs and a list of other services.

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





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