US: Missouri’s laws should encourage people to seek testing, not motivate them to avoid it

Laws motivate many to avoid testing, treatment for HIV

I agree with the sentiments expressed by St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar when interviewed following the conviction this month of former Lindenwood University wrestler Michael Johnson. Missouri’s HIV-specific criminal codes are dated and medically inaccurate and should be changed to reflect current medical knowledge.

Missouri law makes sex by an HIV-positive person subject to criminal prosecution unless the person living with HIV can prove he disclosed his HIV status. Since disclosure is very difficult to prove, many times coming down to he-said/she-said, such laws penalize knowing your status.

I’m in no way downplaying the seriousness of knowing your status and not disclosing it in a relationship. However, our laws currently motivate many to avoid being tested and treated. That is clearly not in the best interest of health in our communities and could potentially harm many of our families.

I believe Missouri can do more to reduce the rate of transmitted diseases. That’s why I sponsored House Bill 88, a needle exchange bill, in 2017. Needle exchange participants are five times more likely to enter an addiction treatment program. That’s huge.

Needle exchanges have proven that they do not increase drug use and they help prevent serious disease outbreaks caused by needle sharing. They also protect non-drug users with whom the addicted person may be in a relationship. While governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence signed a needle exchange bill to respond to their outbreak of hepatitis C and HIV. Missouri can and should do this as well.

We need to modernize Missouri’s laws that encourage people to not seek diagnosis and treatment. I look forward to working on this again in the upcoming legislative session and know many others in the Legislature see the need as well.

Published in St Louis Post Dispatch on Sept 29, 2017