The Missouri House has proposed easing state law to allow organizations to give clean needles to users of illegal intravenous drugs. Backers say the bill will help combat a potential outbreak in diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C caused by the sharing of used needles, and will get more people into drug treatment, but not all lawmakers are convinced.
Needle exchange or syringe access programs already exist in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. Representative Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) said those programs are operating in violation of state law regarding drug paraphernalia, but local jurisdictions allow them to operate because of the impact they have.
Legislation sponsored by Rehder, House Bill 1620, would relax state law to allow those programs to operate and to expand to other regions in the state.
Rehder said people who use those programs to get needles are 5-times more likely to get into drug treatment because the programs put them in contact with medical professionals.
“That becomes the medical professional in their life, so they go and they get a ten-cent needle but they get so much more than that,” said Rehder. “They get educational material explaining the harm of what they’re doing. They get a person who’s greeting them where they’re at in life who’s explaining there are options for you. We have places for you to go that we can get you into to help get you past this addiction, and so that becomes a relationship.”
Lake St. Louis Republican Justin Hill said as a former police officer and drug task force detective he supports the legislation. He said law enforcement officers are always conscious, when dealing with individuals abusing intravenous drugs, to look out for needles.
“Use extreme caution because you don’t want to be pricked by what? A dirty needle. We want clean needles on the street because of the instances where if an officer gets pricked they don’t want to have to take tests for the next two years of their lives every month – go get tested for HIV, go get tested for AIDS, go get tested for Hep C,” said Hill.
Some Republicans who are former law enforcement officers oppose Rehder’s bill. Cedar Hill representative Shane Roden, a reserve deputy sheriff, called the idea “stupid.”
Roden argued that with HB 1620, “We’re literally going to put the needle in their arm.”
Still the proposal has broad support including from Democrats. St. Louis City representative Peter Merideth followed-up Rowden’s statements by asking Rehder, “Do you expect this to cure the problem of opioid addiction in Missouri?”
Backers also say the bill will save the state money in costs to Medicaid of treating people who contract conditions like HIV and Hepatitis C by sharing needles.
The House voted 135-13 to send the legislation to the Senate. In previous years one similar proposal was voted out of one House committee but moved no further through the process.