A Broward County lawmaker’s plans for a needle exchange program are gaining traction. The House Health Quality Subcommittee approved Representative Katie Edwards’ plan Tuesday for a pilot program at the University of Miami.
By exchanging sterile needles for used ones, the program aims to slow the spread of blood-borne illnesses. Edwards says transmission prevention should be a matter of public health, and not only a matter of public safety.
"I think it also gives us a way to finally begin to address our war on addiction here in the state and begin to address it as a health policy concern through committees like this versus simply looking at it as a law enforcement concern where we're more focused on punishing and incarcerating addicts," she said.
There is a strong correlation between injection drug use and the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Jason King says HIV cases are emerging in new communities.
“The data that we have demonstrates that there’s different types of people that are also being affected by this that we probably wouldn’t normally consider. Baker, Duval, Nassau and St Johns have seen drastic increases in females, white females ages 40 to 49," he said.
The plan would be funded by private donations, not state or local dollars, and would shelter healthcare workers from prosecution for distributing needles. While the five year program would be limited to Miami-Dade County, the spread of blood-borne illnesses among injection drug users is on the rise throughout the state.