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Bill seeks distribution of syringes for drug users

CITY HALL – As a step toward cutting the spread of infectious diseases, the city of St. Louis may be providing free and clean syringes to drug users by the end of the year.

A bill introduced in the Board of Aldermen on Friday would establish a pilot Syringe Services Program to distribute the needles and related equipment at specified recovery community centers. The city Department of Health would operate the program in cooperation with a private-sector organization.

Besides reducing incidents of blood-borne diseases such as viral hepatitis, HIV and AIDS, proponents hope that drug users who regularly pick up new syringes will be encouraged to seek help to end their addictions. They also would receive injection-related supplies including sterile water, cotton and tourniquets. 

“Right now, syringes are considered paraphernalia, and not exactly legal to distribute,” said 20th Ward Alderman Cara Spencer, the bill’s prime sponsor. The co-sponsors are Sixth Ward Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, Eighth Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice, 18th Ward Alderman Jesse Todd and 28th Ward Alderwoman Heather Navarro.

“What we want to do is give providers a tool to be able to distribute clean syringes, and that’s what the pilot provider will do,” Spencer said. She hopes to have the program up and running by the end of the year.

The program has the solid support of the city’s Department of Health, which started working on the project in October. The department helped write the bill. 

According to information in the bill, there were 308 deaths in the city in 2018 involving overdoses of opioids, involving fentanyl, heroin or both. This was a 135 percent increase in opioid deaths since 2015. Nationally, 131 people die every day from opioid overdoses.

The bill said that such programs could sharply cut the incidence of HIV and hepatitis C in drug users.

In its first year, the program would cost about $20,000 to $30,000, said Dr. Fredrick Echols, director  of the St. Louis Department of Health.

“These programs have proven to be effective across the nation,” Echols said. When drug users come in regularly, there are opportunities to encourage them to use other services to break the habit, he said. 

“The cost savings will be tremendous,” Echols said. 

The bill directs city police to recognize that the purpose of the program isn’t to condone injection of a controlled substance into the body, but to cut the spread of infectious diseases by reducing the number of people who use unsterile needles and syringes to inject drugs into their bodies. Because of this, needles and syringes aren’t considered drug paraphernalia.

In a separate matter at Friday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, Navarro introduced a bill that would require that all new single-family, multifamily and commercial buildings be built so they are solar-ready. All buildings would have to be constructed so that a rooftop photovoltaic system could be easily added later. 

The International Energy Conservation Code, which the city adopted in 2018, would be amended to include this requirement. Buildings would have to include a minimum-size solar-ready zone free from obstruction.  

The bill would require applicants for construction permits to submit roof load design calculations, conduit sizing and routing. They also would have to provide solar-ready electrical service panel space. Construction document certification would have to be provided to the building division. 

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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