MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Used syringes and needles littering the ground, in Morgantown and other urban areas of the state, have become a common complaint. Delegate Geno Chiarelli, R-Monongalia, is contemplating legislation that would ban needle exchange programs across the state.

Del. Geno Chiarelli

“I tried to gather as much research as I possibly could. I’ve talked to a lot of people involved. I went through the program myself just to get a feel for what it was like and I did not leave with a very good impression,” said Chiarelli.

While outlining his legislative priorities on WAJR’s Talk of the Town Chiarelli said he is considering such a ban in response to concerns brought to him by his constituents in Morgantown.

“It’s not something that I am 100% set on, but it is something where my mind is at I have legislation being worked on right now. I’m going to talk to other legislators and see if it’s something that they’re interested in moving forward with.”

Harm reduction programs have been a lightning rod for controversy over the years. In 2021, the legislature approved a bill that added more restrictions to such programs. The bill required identification for individuals using the program, providers offering needle exchange programs to also offer a full array of harm reduction services, and a one-to-one needle exchange.

Despite the changes, Chiarelli said used needles still litter public spaces is still a problem.

“I hear from business owners who are tired of having a property to face people who live downtown. People who live downtown open up porches and find all sorts of paraphernalia. I’ve seen pictures from people that work downtown. I know people who used to work in maintenance and some apartments down there. I’ve seen pictures of the mountains of needles. I wish I was joking,” said Chiarelli.

In October 2021, Morgantown City Council endorsed the Milan Puskar Health Right’s needle exchange program, as required by the legislation approved earlier that year. City Council reaffirmed that support with a resolution in November on a 6-1 vote.

Laura Jones, Health Right Executive Director, noted out of 32,000 needles distributed as part of the program, about 78 percent of them are returned. To account for others, Jones said Health Right employees and volunteers participate in weekly cleanups in areas where needles are found.

However, Chiarelli is not convinced the program is achieving its goal.

“I can only hear so many times from so many business owners and tenants downtown that they’re tired of what’s going on. So I have to do I can to try to help.”

The 60-day legislative session begins on Jan. 10.