As opioid abuse rises across the state some lawmakers are pushing to clear the way for more needle exchange programs. Many physicians whole-heartedly support the strategy as a way to reduce the harm of drug abuse.
The Florida Legislature greenlit a Miami Dade needle exchange pilot early in 2016. Now a handful of state lawmakers want the Department of Health to facilitate similar initiatives at the request of hospitals and substance abuse programs. In October, Dr. Aaron Wohl told state senators the pilot is already helping refer people to drug treatment and testing for diseases like HIV and Hepatitis.
“And the county health department has been able to link these HIV positive people as well as the Hepatitis positive folks to treatment with infectious disease treatment,” Wohl said.
And Wohl says dirty needles can also lead to other health complications like endocarditis—an infection of heart valves.
“The cost of that is in the $200,000-$300,000 dollar range,” Wohl explained. “And so spending a little of it on harm reduction, and—yes I’m going to say it—needle or syringe access programs, to promote those are so important for our community.”
West Park Democrat Shevrin Jones is sponsoring the measure in the House and fellow Democrat Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens is carrying an identical bill in the Senate. Republican Cary Pigman, an emergency physician from Sebring, is co-sponsoring the House bill.
The measure only directs the department to help administer programs if a local provider requests it. Like the existing pilot project, organizers are prohibited from using any government money for the initiative.