The St. Louis Regional Health Commission (RHC) strongly supports Senate Bill 64, which would allow any entity registered with the state to run syringe exchange programs.
The research is clear: syringe exchange programs can increase access to substance use disorder treatment, reduce the spread of infectious disease, and promote public safety.
The opioid epidemic continues to grow in Missouri. In 2018, one out of 56 deaths was attributed to opioid-involved overdoes.1 We know that providing sterile syringes can save lives by increasing access to substance use disorder treatment. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that new users of Syringe Services Programs (SSPs) – which provide clean needle exchange among other services – are five times more likely to enter drug treatment and three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who don’t use the programs.2
In Missouri, the opioid epidemic is also increasing the spread of infectious disease associated with injection drug use, including HIV, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Nationwide and statewide, the majority of new HCV infections are from injection drug use.3 In 2016, the CDC identified 13 Missouri counties at highest risk in the country for an HIV or HCV outbreak from sharing needles.4 Providing sterile needles through syringe exchange programs is an evidence-based strategy to reduce the spread of blood-borne infections. According to the CDC, SSPs can reduce HIV and HCV incidence by 50%.2 Research shows that needle exchange not only improves public health but also is cost effective. George Washington University’s study found that Washington, D.C.’s needle exchange program prevented 120 new cases of HIV infection and saved over $44 million in a two-year period.5 A 2014 study found that each dollar invested in needle exchange programs saved at least $6 in costs averted from HIV treatment.6
Syringe exchange programs also promote public safety. Though some may falsely believe that needle exchange programs promote more needles on the street, providing safe needle disposal and exchange reduces the presence of discarded needles in the community.2 Studies in Baltimore and New York City also show no difference in crime rates between areas with and areas without SSPs.2
Supporters across the political spectrum have endorsed syringe exchange legislation. If passed, SB 64 would improve access to health care, prevent disease, and ultimately, save lives.
For more information on SB 64, visit the Senate’s website. The bill is sponsored by Senator Holly Rehder (Republican – District 27 – Jackson County). Organizations who testified in support of SB 64 include the following: BJC Healthcare, Cox Health, Missouri Nurses Association, Missouri Pharmacy Association, Missouri Retailer Association, Missouri State Medical Association, St. Louis Regional Health Commission, and Vivent Health. The Missouri Senate website does not list any organizations who testified in opposition to the bill. ‘