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Pilot Program Would Supply Clean Needles For Drug Users In Miami Dade

Gina Jordan

Miami-Dade County has another chance at getting a program that would enable drug users to safely exchange their dirty syringes.

A bill to create a five-year pilot program has been filed again in Tallahassee, and a University of Miami medical student is behind the push.

Hansel Tookes is a fourth-year medical student training at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He went to the Capitol to lobby for the bill on behalf of the Florida Medical Association.

“[Drug users] would come in and they would get clean needles. They would be offered referrals for drug treatment. They would be offered HIV testing, Hepatitis testing. We’d be able to give them vaccinations,” Tookes said. “So we’d really be able to provide a level of primary care there as well.”

The effort to get a similar program in Miami-Dade didn’t get a final vote by lawmakers last year, so supporters are trying again.

Tookes says the pilot would greatly reduce the spread of infections among drug users and save a lot of money, especially since many of his patients are uninsured.

“We don’t turn anyone away at Jackson Memorial Hospital, so their bill is on the county taxpayer,” Tookes said. “That’s why it’s really important to prevent these sorts of hospitalizations for abscesses and different things that result from injection drug use because the Miami Dade taxpayers are paying for it.”

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, sponsors the bill -- which wouldn’t cost taxpayers a thing.

“No state funds shall be used for this exchange program. Funding must come from private sources with grants and donations,” Braynon told the Senate Health Policy Committee. “There should be no fiscal impact to the state.”

The pilot would be funded strictly from private resources. But lawmakers have to give their approval because state law bars anyone from supplying syringes to a known drug user.

If the bill passes, the program would last for five years. Then, the legislature would review the results to determine whether it should continue.

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