For the second year in a row, West Virginia Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam County, is attacking needle exchange programs in the Mountain State by way of bad legislation.
In 2020, Tarr introduced Senate Bill 286 to prohibit syringe exchange programs and make activities relating to their continuation illegal. This year, Tarr has kicked it up a notch with Senate Bill 334, which prohibits state funds, including any available state grants, from being used to fund exchange programs.
Tarr’s 13-page bill also creates an unprecedented bureaucracy — something Republicans used to openly oppose — by forcing any entity seeking to establish a new needle exchange program to apply for a license from the Director of the Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification for approval.
However, the applicant cannot turn in the application until it receives a written statement of approval from the “entire county commission” where it plans to locate. The letter must state that the needle exchange program is not prohibited by local ordinance. Then, the applicant has to get similar letters from the local health officer or board of health and the county sheriff.
Talk about jumping through hoops.
When the program is up and running, each syringe that is given to those seeking help with substance use disorder must bear a serial number that is readily traceable back to the needle exchange program.
SB 334 goes a ludicrous step further to give civil immunity to business owners who may find used syringes on their properties, particularly if someone is injured by a disposed needle on their property.
The bottom line is that the bill simply aims to legislate needle exchange programs out of business.
It also completely ignores the human side of needle exchange programs.
Needle exchange programs help prevent the spread of such deadly, highly communicable diseases as Hepatitis B and C and HIV, which occurs when those who use injectable drugs share used needles.
The upside of needle exchange programs is that study after study has shown they are the gateway to treatment for individuals who are living with substance use disorder.
“People who get themselves into harm reduction clinics, which includes syringe access are five times more likely to seek treatment than those who do not,” said Lloyd White, administrator of the Marion County Health Department. “Drug users are going to use needles no matter what; they are going to do what they are going to do with their needles no matter what.”
The COVID pandemic has led to an increase in depression, drug abuse and addiction and suicides. The state has a moral responsible to support programs that support life rather than take away programs that save lives.
Lawmakers appear to not be looking at the financial side of ending needle exchange programs.
Senate Bill 334 is just bad legislation that needs to be stopped.
According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health, the cost of treating Hepatitis C, for example, is $64,490 per person. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the lifetime cost of treating a person living with HIV is almost $450,000.