West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday signed a bill to introduce more stringent requirements to needle exchange programs that critics say will make it harder to get clean needles amid a spike in HIV cases in the state, reports the Associated Press. In urging Justice to reject the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union’s West Virginia chapter had sent the Republican governor a letter Wednesday on behalf of nearly 300 doctors, nurses, recovery coaches, clergy and others who work with people directly affected by injection drug use. The letter said the bill will wipe out exchange programs and result in more lives lost. West Virginia has by far the nation’s highest death rate from drug overdoses.
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. One provision would require syringes to be marked with the program passing them out. Another provision would give local governments the authority to bar certain groups or providers from setting up a needle exchange program. Supporters said the legislation would help those addicted to opioids get connected to health care services fighting substance abuse. Some Republicans said the changes were necessary because some needle exchange programs were “operating so irresponsibly” that they were causing syringe litter. The new rules take effect amid one of the nation’s highest spikes in HIV cases related to intravenous drug use.