Missouri Health Director Backs Needle-Exchange Proposal

SPRINGFIELD -- The potential legislation would allow injection drug-users access to clean needles in an effort to cut down on the spread of disease.

Bob Holtkamp is the Director of Outreach and Prevention at the Aids Project of the Ozarks. While the APO does not have a stance on the legislation, Holkamp points out a few issues with drug syringes right now.

"We have had a historical meth problem, and now opioids and heroin use," Holtkamp says. "These items are discarded in inappropriate places. Those syringes can be disposed of appropriately in a safe manner."

Holtkamp says disease prevention is not the only advantage to having clean syringe access.

"Providing safe syringes, clean syringes, not only stops the spread of diseases, but also allows individuals who are using substances in that way to more readily accept referrals to drug treatment centers," Holtkamp explains.  

 David Stoecker is the Outreach Coordinator for the Missouri Recovery Network, and he shares the sentiment of Holtkamp that it could be a gateway to a better life for users.

"It gives people that first entry into a place where we can refer them for therapy, and it is amazing how that continues to build," Stoecker says.  

This coming January will not be the first legislative session which this proposal has been made.

"I was there for some of the testimony that was given on this," says Stoecker. "Honestly it's that convoluted belief that we are going to have even more people that are going to use, or it is going to encourage people to continue shooting up."

Both Stoecker and Holtkamp both know there could be some push back on this type of legislation, and some of that may be due to misunderstanding how users think.

"It is not the instrument that they crave, it is the substances that they crave," says Holtkamp.

Stoecker adds, "People are already using drugs, the problem is sometimes they are re-using the needles and sharing their needles."

According to the A-P-O, there are over 12,000 people diagnosed with HIV in Missouri. Stoecker points out some staggering numbers on treatment costs for HIV.

"Over somebody's lifetime it costs $350,00 to $650,000 to treat. So we look at saving tens and tens of millions of dollars by giving someone a 25 cent syringe."

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