Local leader expands on needle exchange ruling

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – This week, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping a new law affecting needle exchange programs from going into effect next month. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the West Virginia ACLU on behalf on Milan Puskar Health Right in Morgantown.

Laura Jones, executive director of Milan Puskar Health Right many provisions of the new law will deter people from using the harm reduction program and it will ultimately become a community hazard.

The identification requirement in law is especially troubling for Jones. She says requiring an ID will create fear of arrest or prosecution and possibly force addicts to use dirty needles.

“They need to have the ability to be anonymous and that’s one thing the law takes away,” Jones said on WAJR’s Talk of the Town,” It requires everyone to identify themselves.”

The one-to-one needle exchange is an issue that would be difficult for harm reduction programs and addicts. According to Jones, addicts do turn needles in, however use may vary and different amounts of needles maybe required or turned in at any given time.

“If they need 30 syringes then they have to bring back 30 syringes,” Jones said,” It makes sense if you think about it, but in practice the way people use drugs it is not a good practice.”

Turing people away from the program will create health hazards that could spill over into the community at-large. Jones cited the recent HIV outbreak in Kanawha County under investigation by the CDC. Preliminary finds say inadequate treatment availability and access to sterile syringes were causes of the outbreak.

” The only way to stop that spread is to stop people from sharing syringes in order to do that they have to have access to them,” Jones said,” That doesn’t mean that we aren’t concerned about getting them back and making sure they’re disposed of correctly.”

The law would have gone into effect on July 9. Violations under the statute could be fines up to $10,000 for violations.

“It’s not necessarily that we can’t be in compliance with the rules,” Jones said,” But, the issue is the rules that were written into the law don’t allow us to provide best practice.”

Jones said the majority of people who use harm reduction are people with families, jobs and are trying to live productive lives. She asserts the classic example of a homeless person addicted to drugs is the norm at all.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem- we keep saying that, but that’s kind of what we still want to do,” Jones said,” We still want to make a moral negative issue.”