ST. LOUIS–Trish Gunby says she’s used to it.
As a Democrat who won a special election for a seat representing West St. Louis County in the Missouri General Assembly, and found herself deep in the minority, she says she’s spent her time in office knowing that bills with her name on them face tough sledding in Jefferson City. It may be even more of an issue this year since Gunby has announced a campaign for Congress. That means she needs help from across the aisle to find a co-sponsor who can help get a bill into committee.
When news broke earlier this month that seven people died in Central West End apartment building from drug overdoses related to fentanyl, Gunby took to social media to look for more help.
“I’ve filed HB2570, a fentanyl testing strip pilot program bill, and am looking for someone across the aisle to file it and help move it along. After this weekend, we must work harder to save lives,” she said on Twitter on February 6.
The bill would establish a “three-year pilot program for the purpose of implementing and studying the efficacy, public health, and public safety outcomes of the use of fentanyl testing strips by individuals addicted to opioids and other substances.”
A 2018 Johns Hopkins study found support for the idea.
“When we spoke with people who inject drugs in the three cities, we found the vast majority were interested in having their drugs checked for fentanyl. Even more said that doing so would help them protect themselves from overdose. Public health experts advise that any drug-checking program should include harm reduction counseling, health education, and connection to services including treatment. It’s important to note the limitations of drug-testing mechanisms: there still can be false positives and false negatives, and the presence of other dangerous substances may go undetected,” the study said in part.
An official in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration published a blog opposing them, saying they create a false sense of security. The post is now unavailable on the agency’s website.
“Addicts don’t want to die, typically. They’re addicted and they’re looking for their next fix. We see accidental overdoses reported all the time,” Gunby said. “It’s truly a way to keep people alive in the hopes they will seek treatment. I believe that’s the most realistic use of these.”
But Gunby is also realistic about the odds of getting something done this year, and it has little to do with her political party registration. Her bill, and everything else, it seems, are all held being hostage at the moment as the Missouri Senate is paralyzed over something else entirely: redistricting.
“We’ve got a Senate that’s not even looking at bills right now, they’re still on one bill so it’s gonna be harder and harder to pass legislation this year this session because of the redistricting map and how that is slowing everything down,” Gunby said.
Lawmakers in both parties have often had to file bills over multiple sessions to build support and consensus, and this one may be no different.
“It’s a marathon,” Gunby said.