Judge rules in favor of law restricting the exchange of wv syringes

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After months of questions around a new West Virginia harm reduction law and a court challenge to its constitutionality, a federal judge ruled that the measure is enforceable.

Passed in April by the Legislature, Senate Bill 334 requires programs offering needle exchanges to host a number of other harm reduction services, requiring them to refuse clean needles to those who do not return not with their used needles and requires them to only serve customers with state IDs to function.

Needle exchanges are widely viewed by public health experts as a key measure to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.

On June 25, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia filed a lawsuit challenging the applicability of the law. Lawyers for the ACLU-WV argued that the wording of the bill was vague and prevented program administrators from having a clear understanding of what would be needed to comply with the requirements and avoid fines.

“A lawyer can’t look at this law and tell you what conduct would or wouldn’t violate it,” ACLU-WV chief legal officer Loree Stark said earlier this month. “It’s a problem. Especially when those found in violation could face a fine of $ 10,000.”

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, United States District Court Judge Robert C. Chambers issued a temporary restraining order that would prevent the law from coming into force until Chambers had had time to hear the arguments for and against the law. This order lasted until July 8, when lawyers for the plaintiffs – a group of harm reduction operators in the state – and the state Department of Health and Human Resources met in court. . After that hearing, Chambers extended the restraining order.

On Thursday, the judge dissolved the restraining order and dismissed the plaintiff’s requests for a preliminary injunction, noting that the court “agrees that [a section of the law] reflects a bad design ”, but“ cannot conclude that these inconsistencies make the language so vague as to violate the due process rights of complainants ”.

“We respect the court’s decision, although of course we are disappointed with the results of the decision. We are reviewing our available options for moving forward, ”Stark said in a written statement following the decision.

Representatives from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, which was on the list of defendants in the case, did not return a request for comment.

Before and after its passage, Senate Bill 334 was widely opposed by administrators of local health services across the state who expressed concerns that its strict requirements conflicted with best practice. The tough rules, they said, would endanger the health of their communities by contributing to the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C, and force some programs to close because they could not risk being tried. non-compliant and the associated heavy fines.

The Marion County Health Department has already closed its syringe program in response to the law. Others, such as those in Cabell, Kanawha and Monongalia counties, are struggling to comply.

The law was signed by Governor Jim Justice amid an HIV epidemic linked to injection drug use in the West Virginia capital. This outbreak has since required a federal response from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Without the ability to allow people who inject drugs to have access to clean needles, officials said the epidemic is likely to worsen.

This story includes a report by Emily Allen.

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