CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The American Civil Liberties Union on West Virginia (ACLU-WV) has filed a lawsuit to stop a new law that aims to establish a license application process for needle exchange programs.

The ACLU-WV claimed in the suit, filed today, Friday, June 25, 2021, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, that the law could “significantly worsen the nation’s worst HIV outbreak.”

The law, Senate Bill 334, is set to take effect July 9, 2021. It states that all new and existing syringe exchange programs must obtain a license from the Office for Health Facility Licensure and Certification. The ACLU-WV says they are concerned the law could eliminate lifesaving harm reduction programs, causing an increase in the infection rates for HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.

The organization’s legal director, Loree Stark, also said the bill that passed into law is allegedly “rife with constitutional defects.”

“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 ACLU-WV says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended syringe exchange services to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The CDC is also currently investigating the HIV outbreak in Kanawha County, after the county commission called for an investigation in early April, and released their preliminary findings yesterday. According to the ACLU, the CDC called the Kanawha County outbreak of HIV “the most concerning in the nation.”

Kanawha County reported one less case of HIV in 2020 than New York City reported in 2019. New York City’s population is 150 times larger than Kanawha County’s population.

The ACLU-WV says they are bringing this lawsuit on behalf of three clients, including Milan Puskar Health Right in Morgantown.

“The 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.”

The full lawsuit can be found on the ACLU-WV website.