Missouri state rep calls for syringe access program to curb opioid addiction

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - A Missouri lawmaker wants to make it legal for organizations to provide drug users with free needles. Rep. Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) says a syringe access program would go a long way toward curbing the opioid epidemic.

Monday in Jefferson City, a House committee held a public hearing on a bill to make syringe access programs legal. The proposal is sponsored by a lawmaker who has seen first-hand the toll addiction can take.

You can hear it in her voice and see it in her office; Holly Rehder is proud to be from the bootheel. But she overcame a rough upbringing to represent her area in the Missouri House of Representatives.

"I was raised in addiction,” she said. “My mother struggled with mental illness. One of my stepdads was a dealer, my sister became an addict by the time she was 16. My cousin died at 39 from long-term opioid abuse."

Rehder is an active parent who has tried to do better for her kids, but one of her daughters also traveled down a road of addiction.

"Now she is three years clean and the best momma I know, but you know, that was a long, hard road," she said.

Now Rehder tries to take all she's learned about addiction and translate it into legislation to help other Missourians.

Rehder’s House Bill 1620 is being heard, which would allow any state-licensed organization to run a syringe access program.

"When people hear it on its face value, they think, ‘oh my gosh you're enabling,’ but when you look at the statistics, the facts prove that more people who use needle exchange syringe access, they actually get help and they actually get their lives turned around,” she said. "People that use syringe access programs are five times more likely to enter treatment because we're meeting them where they are at."

Syringe access programs also help reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

"There are many states that have passed it and with the CDC recommending it and the President's task force recommending it, hopefully, we can get this done in Missouri this year."

In addition to pushing for this bill, Rehder is once again pushing for a prescription drug monitoring program to help doctors track access to narcotics.

Many areas of the state are participating in St. Louis County's program, but Missouri is still the only state without a statewide database.