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Policy & Politics
Needle Exchange Bill Finds Early Support in Florida

February 19, 2014

This article was reported by Miami Herald.

The Miami Herald reported that south Florida lawmakers introduced a bill to allow a privately funded needle-exchange program for intravenous drug users in Miami-Dade County. Although a similar bill failed last year, Senate Bill 408 already received unanimous support from two Senate committees; the Florida House of Representatives scheduled a first hearing for House Bill 491 on February 18.

Hansel Tookes, a University of Miami medical student, helped craft the proposal, based on the success of needle-exchange programs in other states and Tookes's own 2009 research in Miami. His research, published in 2011 in the medical journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found that Miami drug users were "34 times more likely to dispose of their needles publicly" than drug users in San Francisco, where users had access to needle-exchange programs.

The current bill called for the state's Department of Health to implement a five-year needle-exchange pilot program that also would provide education about drug addiction and blood-borne diseases, drug treatment referrals, and HIV testing and counseling. State lawmakers could suspend or continue the effort after five years. Sen. Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens), the bill's Senate sponsor, stated that the program, which would cost the state nothing, could save money by reducing the number of people with blood-borne diseases using emergency rooms.

Other bill proponents included the Florida Hospital Association and the Florida Medical Association. The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Mark Pafford (D-West Palm Beach), believed the bill failed last year because of "logistics" and the fact that it was not high priority. Pafford emphasized the potential benefits for police officers, firefighters, and first responders working in environments where drug users likely would possess or throw away used syringes.

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