Conflicting state, local laws inhibiting safe needle exchanges, West Virginia study finds

Researchers at West Virginia University found confusion over laws governing drug paraphernalia is one of the biggest barriers to safely disposing of used needles and obtaining clean ones.

According to the CDC, sharing needles is one of the most prevalent ways in which hepatitis C spreads among those who inject drugs.

The researchers conducted a survey of 100 people in needle exchange programs. Seventy-two percent of them "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that they could get into trouble with the police for carrying needles.

The researchers also examined laws in West Virginia that do not support public health programs such as needle exchanges. For example, under state law it is legal to buy or possess drug paraphernalia, including syringes and hypodermic needles.

But new local laws "criminalize possession of a new syringe unless a person has a prescription," said Steve Davis, PhD, study leader and an associate professor in WVU's School of Public Health. "And some of the people who inject drugs that I interviewed mentioned being cited for possession of new needles.

"It is my belief that this confusion over conflicting state and local laws contributes to fear of possessing new needles," said Dr. Davis.

The research findings suggest that unambiguously decriminalizing the purchase and possession of syringes and hypodermic needles could make needle exchange easier and help reduce the spread of hepatitis C infections, Dr. Davis said.

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