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Needle Exchange

More oversight is not always bad

On Tuesday, state senators passed a bill that will put greater restrictions on community needle exchange programs. Now it is up to the House of Delegates to decide whether the changes to the program will work best for both those who use the needle exchanges and the communities in which they operate.

“I hope the House will be a deliberative body and try to fix some of these onerous restrictive mechanisms in this bill,” Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, told another media outlet.

While some might call the changes restrictive, others point out there is a need for making sure these programs do not create a danger for surrounding communities, and truly work toward solving the substance abuse problem rather than simply enabling it.

The bill that passed the Senate would require licenses for needle collection and distribution programs. Operators would have to offer health outreach services, including overdose prevention education and substance abuse treatment program referrals.

So, while opponents of the measure say that means some needle exchange programs would have to close, perhaps that is a good thing. If those in charge are unwilling or unable to make changes to truly help their clients, maybe other organizers could do better.

Residents of communities in which there are needle exchange programs can be outspoken on social media. One Charleston-area neighborhood recently hit by flooding is also home to such a program, and residents reported “Dumpster diving” by those they believed were in the neighborhood to get needles, while residents were cleaning up their damaged property.

Ohio County has a needle exchange program that has seen little in the way of problems over the years. However, some of the changes being sought would help to ensure the program remains accountable to local residents in the future.

It is a fine line, then. Lawmakers know there is value in needle exchange programs, but only if they are conducted with the intent to truly help those in the grip of addiction and minimize harm to the communities in which they operate.

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