Future of needle exchange programs still up in the air

West Virginia

HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – A new state law that puts limits on needle exchange programs in West Virginia will not take effect tomorrow. A federal judge did not issue a ruling in a preliminary hearing today to lift a lower court’s temporary injunction blocking the law.

The ACLU of West Virginia filed for the injunction claiming the law is unconstitutional by the application of the law would disfavor a group of persons more so than another and there is no rational basis for doing it.

Many health experts also say the limits on community harm reduction programs could do more harm than good.

The law that was supposed to go on the books Friday would have placed new restrictions on harm reduction programs, requiring state licenses for needle exchanges and forcing them to offer an array of health outreach services.

Last week a judge granted Health Right of Morgantown and the ACLU of West Virginia’s request for a temporary injunction.

During a three-hour preliminary hearing Thursday, attorneys for Health Right and the ACLU continued to argue the law is unconstitutional. They claim it doesn’t give harm reduction programs enough time to comply, which could also make the current HIV outbreak in Kanawha County worse.

Special Assistant Attorney General Michael Carey represented the state. He says he felt the hearing “went well.”

The judge was obviously very interested in the issues and heard the evidence and arguments presented by the parties.

Michael Carey, Appointed Special Assistant Attorney General

Carey also states section 10-D of the statute states that current operators of the syringe exchange program that provide the harm reduction services required by the statute can continue to operate and obtain their license by the end of this year.

Carey suggested to the court the state may be open to some alternative measures, such as striking portions of the bill or make changes to eliminate any potential confusion about applying the law. The federal judge over the hearing stated he didn’t see himself overturning the statute.

In fact, he said that any remedy, if he does issue a remedy, would be very precise.

Michael Carey, Appointed Special Assistant Attorney General

At the end of the hearing, the judge did not issue a ruling on the injunction saying he will take both side’s arguments under consideration.

The ACLU of West Virginia said they would not comment until the judge issues a final ruling. The temporary restraining order will remain in effect until the judge hands down that order.

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