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House bill to expand needle exchange program clears final committee

The bill will now head to the House floor.

The Florida House is ready to vote on a proposal to expand Miami-Dade County’s needle exchange program after the bill cleared its final panel Tuesday.

The Health and Human Services Committee voted in favor of the bill (HB 171).

The measure was filed by state Reps. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, and Rene “Coach P” Plasencia, an Orlando Republican.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes the exchanges can prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases by ensuring addicts are using clean needles.

“Public health must be a top priority for our state, and we must stop the spread of blood-borne diseases,” Jones said in a statement Tuesday.

“The momentum behind this critical legislation puts us one step closer to making that a reality and sends a message to the communities impacted by this crisis that the legislature prioritizes their best interest. Anything less than that is a disservice to the people of Florida as a whole.”

A companion measure (SB 366) filed by Sen. Oscar Braynon II has already been approved by the Senate.

In 2016, the Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA) created the needle exchange program at the University of Miami. The five-year pilot program was limited to Miami-Dade County.

The 2016 act also prevented state, county or municipal funds from being used to operate the program. The House measure would still bar state funds from being used but would allow counties and municipalities to divert funds to help support the exchanges.

While the bill gives the state’s other 66 counties the option to create a similar program, it would not require them to do so.

“The opioid epidemic has been crippling each of our communities,” Jones said. “In 2017, we saw 4,279 lives lost to opioids like heroine and fentanyl, more than double the deaths reported only three years before. Miami-Dade County resisted the trend because of their clean syringe exchange program.”

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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