Lawmakers want to expand University of Miami needle exchange program


Two years after a state law established a sterile needle and syringe exchange pilot program in Miami-Dade County, lawmakers are trying to expand the single-county program to other parts of the state.

In an effort to abate a growing opioid epidemic, state Rep. Shevrin Jones said his bill would act a “liaison” to myriad of opioid measures proposed in the state Legislature this year.

Under his bill, a statewide pilot needle exchange program would be established through the Department of Health, rather than just the University of Miami.

“We want to address this (opioid) crisis and how we can use preventative measure that can mean the difference between life and death,” Jones said.

The pilot program at the University of Miami, which swaps unused needles and hypodermic syringes for new ones to prevent blood-borne diseases, would be implemented statewide under HB 579.

“This is an epidemic, not just in opioids, but there’s an increase of HIV infections that we are seeing all over our state and I know that it this is something vital for our entire state,” state Rep. Rene Plasencia, a co-sponsor of the bill, said.

If implemented, the program could save local and state government thousands of dollars by reducing the number of patients with blood-borne diseases associated with intravenous drug use. Treatment costs for those diseases can be in the tens of thousands of dollars over a patient’s lifetime.

“It’s more than clean needles. It’s Narcan, it’s training for opioid prevention, it’s wound care to prevent costly hospitalizations, it’s a place to be linked to drug rehab, it’s a place to receive HIV and Hepatitis C screenings,” said Hansel Tookes, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Miami.

In Florida, there were 4,972 individuals newly diagnosed with an HIV infection in 2016. The counties with the highest rate of people living with HIV or AIDS are in the southeast or central parts of the state.

The pilot program would be funded solely through donations and private resources. No state, county or municipals fund may be used to operate them.

An identical bill sponsored by Sen. Oscar Braynon, who championed legislation with Sen. Anitere Flores in 2016 to implement the University of Miami needle program,  is moving along in the Senate this year. The bill has passed one of its three committee assignments.

Ana Ceballos

Ana covers politics and policy Before joining the News Service of Florida she wrote for the Naples Daily News and was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.


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