Helping addicts survive: FL lawmakers advance statewide needle exchange program

PBS photo

Five Florida cities made the top ten list for new U.S. HIV cases in 2016, the most recent year of data analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That distinction makes the time ripe for Florida to expand statewide a needle-exchange pilot program first introduced in Miami-Dade County four years ago, says state Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Democrat from Miami who is sponsoring a proposal in the Florida Senate. The measure passed unanimously in the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday.

“The program has been quite a success,” Braynon said at the Capitol as he presented the bill. “Miami-Dade County is one of the – if not the only county – in Florida that has had a reduction in its overdoses from opioid deaths.”

Several Republicans are now supporting the proposal.

Ocala Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley said that, at first, he feared the Legislature could help create more drug addicts by supporting “negative habits” when the proposal originally came up. But he said he’s now convinced that the Miami-Dade plan has a demonstrated level of success.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the path that it’s taken,” he said.

Braynon says the Miami-Dade program does more than just allow for the one-to-one exchange of dirty needles for clean ones. It also has become a health center of sorts for those who don’t take the time to get an HIV or Hepatitis C test. It provides drug abuse treatment and counseling, and it’s also become a place where, he says, thousands of lives have been saved because the center provides Naloxone to opioid users and their family and friends. Naloxone is a medication that blocks the effects of opioids, especially during an  overdose.

The Miami-Dade needle exchange program passed in 2016 after several unsuccessful attempts by South Florida lawmakers, and was successful in part because no state dollars fund it.

Braynon’s current bill allows counties to “opt-in” if they want to start their own program, and would allow cities and/or counties to spend funds to create it, along with accessing grants from private groups.

Tampa Bay Democrat state Sen. Darryl Rouson acknowledged that he was also once “reluctant” about the proposal. But after touring the exchange at the University of Miami campus, he was impressed to see fewer overdoses.

“I hope at the end of the day…every senator in the Florida Senate has signed on as co-sponsors,” Rouson said.

The bill will now move to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. It’s being sponsored in the House by Broward County Democrat Shevrin Jones.

 

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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