VIDEO House proposals would address HIV spread and stigma, abuse of IV and prescription drugs

The Missouri House again will weigh bills aimed at fighting intravenous and prescription drug abuse, as well as a bipartisan effort to fight a stigma against those infected with HIV.

Representative Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) has prefiled legislation to legalize programs that give drug abusers clean needles, and for the seventh consecutive year has filed legislation to make statewide a monitoring program for drug prescriptions.  She and Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) have also filed bills to change Missouri law that criminalizes exposing someone to HIV.

Supporters say needle exchange programs have been operating in the state for years, and don’t entice people to start abusing intravenous drugs.  Rather, they say, they ensure abusers aren’t transmitting diseases through dirty needles and it puts them in contact with medical providers who can facilitate getting them into treatment.

Several such programs already operate in Missouri, though they are doing so against the letter of the law.  House Bill 1486 would exempt those programs from the crime of “unlawful delivery of drug paraphernalia.”

House Bill 1693, dubbed the “Narcotics Control Act,” would make statewide a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) like that maintained by the St. Louis County Health Department.  That program covers about 87-percent of Missouri’s population, in just over half its counties.  Rehder said that program has had great results but the whole state must be covered.

A PDMP is a database that physicians and pharmacists could use to track pill purchases and pharmacy visits, in an effort to find those who are potentially filling multiple prescriptions to support abuse.  Such proposals have met stiff opposition in past years, generally from those who say creating such a database would put sensitive medical information in danger of being breached.

House Bills 1691 (Rehder) and 1692 (McCreery) would reduce or eliminate the penalties for knowingly exposing someone with HIV.  Backers say the current penalties are too steep – the punishment for knowingly exposing to HIV someone who contracts the disease is on par with those for murder, rape, and forcible kidnapping.

Supporters say the harsh penalties are actually helping the spread of HIV by discouraging people from getting tested.

Both bills have been filed for the session that begins January 8.

Reps. Rehder and McCreery and advocates discuss the legislation in the video below:

House votes to clear needle exchange programs to fight IV drug use, disease

The Missouri House has passed a bill that would legalize programs already operating in the state that give drug abusers clean needles.  Supporters say those fight the spread of intravenous diseases and expose drug users to treatment options.

Representative Holly Rehder (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Those running needle exchanges in Missouri now could be charged with violating the state’s drug paraphernalia law.  They are protected only by handshake agreements with local law enforcement who recognize the benefit of the programs.

House Bill 168 would exempt from that law needle exchange programs that are registered with the Department of Health and Senior Services.

“Syringe access programs have been found to cause a 13-percent reduction in use.  They play a very large role in referral for treatment, and they’ve also been found to decrease needle sharing by 20-percent,” said Sikeston Republican Holly Rehder, the bill’s sponsor.

She said the CDC has identified 13 counties in Missouri as ripe for an outbreak of Hepatitis C and HIV.  She said preventing an outbreak would save lives and save the state money.

“In 2016 the cost to the state for Hep-C and HIV treatment was $70-million.  In 2017 it was $63-million, and in 2018 it was $80-million,” said Rehder.

Missouri has plenty of examples in other states to look to, to see how needle exchange programs have run and what results they’ve had.

“We’ve had over 30 states enact legislation to allow these to take place,” said Columbia Democrat Martha Stevens.

Supporters say in places with needle exchange programs, drug users are five times more likely to enter treatment.  That’s because when users go to get needles, they’re getting them from a health care professional who can tell them about treatment options.

“This could be the entryway into someone getting treatment.  This could be the first healthcare professional that one of these IV drug users ever meets,” said Lee’s Summit Republican Jonathan Patterson.

“So often people who are using, once they get to using needles, they don’t have anyone in their life that knows how to get them help, that knows how to get them plugged in when they reach out for help,” said Rehder.  “Having this person who meets them where they’re at, becomes their friend, and becomes that medical professional with the knowledge to get them plugged in, and that’s who they go to reach out to when they’re ready for help.”

The House’s 124-27 vote sends the bill to the Senate, where it stalled last year.  Rehder has said she has assurances from members of that chamber that it will be supported this year.

Earlier stories: 

House Committee considers legalizing needle exchange programs to fight disease, addiction

Missouri House asked again to revamp HIV infection laws, endorse needle exchange programs

Missouri House votes to support needle exchange programs to fight IV drug abuse, disease