Missouri bill looks to legalize syringe exchanges

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Right now it is a misdemeanor to participate in needle exchanges but that could soon change.

A bill now in the state Senate could make it legal across the state.

The Better Life in Recovery Center said getting access to clean syringes legally could help a lot of people in the area get clean.

House Bill 1486, if passed, would make syringe exchanges legal in the state of Missouri.

Josh Lien is the peer engagement coordinator at Better Life in Recovery in Springfield.

“At the end of the day when it comes down to it, it’s not about the syringe exchange, it’s about the connection that’s made,” Lien said. “It’s about the relationship made. It’s about the compassion we show to somebody that is struggling with substance use. Somebody that’s on my side, that’s in recovery, that would love the opportunity to be able to have that syringe exchange, that way I could have that contact with a person…it’s illegal. I can’t do it.”

But with attempts like these made in the past to legalize syringe exchanges, he says there is some opposition to it.

“The stigma that comes along with the idea of drug use and the criminal behavior that’s back behind it, this idea that we’re enabling that by offering a clean syringe to somebody but that’s not the case at all,” Lien said.

The bill passed the state House with bipartisan support, but for the representatives that voted no, Political Analyst Brian Calfano says the concern is that you’re promoting drug use and giving people excuses.

“We’ve gotten to such a high level of epidemic drug use that those kinds of punishment oriented approaches just don’t work,” Calfano said.

“They’re going to continue to use whether we get them a clean needle or not,” Lien said. “Substance use disorder doesn’t make a person a bad person. Think about it, you have more people getting into recovery in this community, it’s going to reduce the crime rate, it’s going to reduce Hep C, HIV. It’s going to reduce all kinds of the negative consequences that come from being in drug use.”

“The majority has to essentially come up with policy solutions and deal with any intraparty differences,” Calfano said. “The existing policy approach hasn’t worked and therefore something else needs to occur.”

If the bill were to pass, it wouldn’t cost taxpayers any money to implement.

But the bill still needs to get through the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk.

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