Charleston City Council’s public safety committee voted 5-2 Tuesday to advance legislation that, if adopted, would prohibit groups without state certification from operating a syringe service program in the city.
Prior to the passage vote, the seven-member committee amended the bill to require any syringe program operating within the city to track needles using bar codes and operate on a 1:1 exchange, meaning clients could only receive the number of needles they return in one visit.
The amendment passed 6-1.
Syringe service programs with 1:1 exchanges are not considered to be best-practice by medical experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Councilman Bruce King said he introduced the amendment based on responses to a survey of city first responders on harm reduction practices. Only 136 of the city’s 409 firefighters, police and public grounds employees returned the survey.
The CDC has classified West Virginia’s HIV caseload as “the most concerning” in the country. Syringe service programs are proven to lessen the spread of bloodborne diseases like HIV, hepatitis and endocarditis among people who inject drugs.
“I understand about HIV and [hepatitis C]. Of course, clean needles help deter that,” said Councilwoman Shannon Snodgrass. “However, we have to protect the rest of the community.”
Before Tuesday’s vote, Kevin Baker, attorney for the city of Charleston, advised committee members Tuesday to wait and see what the state does before moving forward.
Senate Bill 334 is looking to limit the operations of syringe service programs statewide. If passed, health professionals say that legislation could end these programs outright. SB 334 has already passed the Senate and is waiting to be heard by the House Health and Human Resources Committee.
The city legislation will be presented to the whole council at its meeting on Monday, April 5.