Missouri House votes to legalize needle exchanges

The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House on Monday passed a bill to legalize needle-exchange programs and increase access to anti-HIV drugs.  

Needle-exchange programs allow drug users to trade used hypodermic needles for clean ones. The aim is to stop people from reusing dirty needles or sharing needles with others, which can spread diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV.  

There are needle-exchange programs in Missouri, but it's currently a misdemeanor to provide needles for drug use.  

The bill would legalize those programs if organizations register with the state health department to provide clean needles as a way to reduce the spread of contagious diseases.  

The bill also would allow pharmacies to provide anti-HIV drugs, some of which can dramatically reduce the chances that someone who is still healthy becomes infected through sex or injection drug use. 

The House amended the bill to include an extension for a medical provider tax used to draw down federal funds for the state's Medicaid health insurance program. That change must be reviewed by the Senate. 

The Republican-led chamber voted 101-55 in favor of the measure, which now heads back to the Republican-led Senate for further consideration.  

Lawmakers have until Friday to give bills final approval.