Needle exchange programs could become easier to operate in Missouri under a bill pre-filed for the state’s 2017 legislative session.
The programs make sure intravenous drug users have access to clean needles to prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV.
“They’re a bit controversial when you think about them because a lot of folks feel that they’re enabling addicts. But what they do is they help keep that addict alive and they help cut down on the spread of disease until that person gets some help,” said state Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, the bill’s sponsor.
Rehder first filed the bill late last year at the request of St. Louis advocate Chad Sabora, director of the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery.
Sabora’s organization partners with the Criminal Justice Ministry to operate a needle exchange program — one of only two in the state.
Sabora said he hopes a legal exemption will encourage more organizations to offer the service.
“I’ve talked to the county health department, the city health department — they want them. Nobody just ever went to Jeff City to get it done,” Sabora said, adding that a key component of a needle exchange program is starting a conversation so people can get addiction treatment.
“We have to meet an active drug user where they’re at. We can’t wait for them to want help. Sometimes we have to engage them in active addiction. And this will give us the opportunity to locate, talk to, find out who’s using, and offer them help. Offer them a way out,” Sabora said.
Pointing to the HIV outbreak in Indiana last year caused by opioid use, Sabora said St. Louis needs to be proactive.
“We know we have an STD problem already by looking at a lot of the reports that come out,” Sabora said. “We have to get ahead of this before we see what happened in Indiana with that mentality of ‘Just don’t sell needles.’ That’s not the solution here.”
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a call for more needle exchange programs last week, saying the national opioid crisis could undo decades of HIV prevention work.
Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.