West Virginia House Passes Syringe Exchange Regulation Bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia House of Delegates has passed a bill to regulate needle exchange programs. Critics say the measure may constrain the number of providers amid a spike in HIV infections.

It was approved on Friday in a 85-13 vote. The Senate will need to take it up before the end of the legislative session this week to send it to the governor’s desk.

The bill would require 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.

Such programs are designed to help contain the spread of infectious diseases that sometimes linger in used syringes.

Opponents say the bill’s stringent measures would force existing exchange programs to close.

Lawmakers added a provision that would give local government the freedom to bar certain groups or providers from setting up a needle exchange program.

The state health department shut down the Kanawha County health department’s syringe program in 2018.

Health officials have said needle exchange programs have been shown to reduce the spread of communicable disease. But city leaders and first responders complained that such a program in Kanawha County led to an increase in needles being left in public places and abandoned buildings, and it was shut down.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin on Monday submitted a congressional inquiry with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding an HIV outbreak in the county.

The West Virginia Democrat asked for the inquiry on behalf of the Kanawha County Commission two months after a CDC official warned that the county’s outbreak was “ the most concerning in the United States.”