ACLU-WV, Milan Health Right sue state over syringe exchange restrictions

West Virginia

FILE – In this May 6, 2019 photo file photo an injection drug user, deposits used needles into a container at the IDEA exchange, in Miami. National data is incomplete, but available information suggests U.S. drug overdose deaths are on track to reach an all-time high. Addiction experts blame the pandemic, which has left people stressed and isolated, disrupted treatment and recovery programs, and contributed to an increasingly dangerous illicit drug supply. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, Fie)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) filed suit
Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in an attempt to stop a new law that it says could significantly worsen the nation’s worst HIV outbreak.

SB 334, considered by some as one of the most restrictive state laws governing syringe exchange services in the nation, was signed by Gov. Jim Justice and is set to take effect July 9. It eliminates most lifesaving
harm reduction programs in West Virginia and will likely increase infection rates for HIV and other
blood-borne illnesses, ACLU-WV officials said.

The bill is also rife with constitutional defects, ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark said.
“If allowed to become law, SB 334 will cost lives and deprive West Virginians of numerous
constitutional rights, including due process and equal protection among others,” Stark said. “The bill
should be declared unconstitutional and stopped.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends syringe exchange
services to stem the spread of infectious disease. The CDC has called the Kanawha County HIV outbreak
“the most concerning in the nation.” The county, which has a population of less than 180,000,
reported just one fewer case in 2019 than all of New York City reported in 2020. New York City’s
population is roughly 8.4 million.

ACLU-WV is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of three clients, including Milan Puskar Health Right
in Morgantown. “This bill is not good for the people of West Virginia,” said Laura Jones, Health Right executive director. “We have a commitment to the participants we serve through our harm reduction
program. This bill will prevent us from fulfilling our commitment to use CDC best practices to
protect our community from outbreaks of HIV and other infectious diseases.”

This is the third lawsuit brought by ACLU-WV in response to actions taken during the 2021 Legislative Session.

You can read the full lawsuit here.

The first suit alleges that the state’s recent law banning transgender athletes from competing in female sports is unconstitutional.

A second lawsuit accuses the West Virginia House of Delegates of violating the state’s open meetings laws.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Local News Headlines

Trending Stories