Bill calls for changes to W.Va. needle exchange programs

By  | 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) — Lawmakers in Charleston, W.Va. are trying to pass a bill that would add new requirements to needle exchange programs in West Virginia to try to clean up perceived problems associated with them.

Lawmakers in Charleston are trying to pass a bill that would add new requirements to needle exchange programs in West Virginia to try to clean up perceived problems associated with them.

Defenders of such programs say they help prevent diseases from spreading and provide drug users access to treatment.

Critics say they create public hazards and increased crime.

Republican West Virginia Sen. Eric Tarr, from Putnam County, is introducing a bill he says is meant to ensure needle exchange programs operate with fewer problems.

"When I first went after this, I was so upset and said the risk of these programs nowhere near comes close to the benefit," he said. "As I got looking into it more, I found there are some communities doing this well."

Tarr says the Department of Health and Human Resources' own numbers indicate that last year alone, 460,000 needles were unaccounted for.

"That's an awful lot of needles," he said.

Tarr also says in one month, only around 10 percent of people who used the programs were tested for diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

"It's a whole lot lower than you're led to believe when they talk about these programs, and they're talking about disease prevention and disease control," Tarr said.

If the bill passes, syringes would have to be given out with serial numbers, the amount of needles given out would have to match the number turned in, and testing would be required.

"I think everybody realizes there need to be some loose central guidelines from the state," Republican State Sen. Mike Maroney said. "If you want grant money for your program, you need to meet these requirements that will help with needle litter."

The bill will be run Tuesday at the Senate health committee meeting. If it passes, it'll go to the judiciary committee.

An earlier bill that was scrapped would've shut down all needle exchange programs in the state. Tarr says after learning more about the good that comes out of the programs, he felt that was going too far.