Florida Senate Bill Would Expand Miami Needle Exchange Program

Mar 1, 2019

The 2019 legislative session begins Tuesday. Over 60 days, lawmakers will tackle the states’ biggest issues, including school safety, education and health care.

One Senate bill would expand a needle exchange program like the one in Miami-Dade County, which is designed to help prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases. The measure would allow county commissioners across Florida to decide whether to establish similar programs.

State senator Oscar Braynon, whose district includes parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, sponsored the bill. On Friday, he joined host Tom Hudson and Christine Sexton, a reporter for News Service of Florida, on the South Florida Roundup.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

WLRN: Critics will say these kinds of needle exchange programs help proliferate the use of these needles for the kinds of activities that are associated with drug abuse and the spread of disease. 

Braynon: Something we've learned in this opioid epidemic is that people who have the disease of addiction are going to use anyway. And what we're trying to do is get them in the door and to stop them from spreading diseases whether it be to other users, to themselves, to the community at large. We're taking care of these infections early so that they they're not in a hospital. 

How has this effort been greeted in the past? 

Sexton: I believe that the law makes very clear that right now there cannot be any state funds for the use of this program. And I feel like that was also a way to assuage some people's concerns. But when this bill initially passed, the Rick Scott administration ... had some very strong feelings about the [Health] Department having to actively approve these programs and the use of state money. There is no money that is collected in the state budget that goes to this. It's funded through private funds. 

Is it fully funded? 

Braynon: Well, you raise money for it. So it's fully funded for it to operate the way we operate in Dade County. 

But not in Broward County or Leon County or Duval County? They would have to come up with their own money. 

Braynon: One of things that was added into the bill ... is it now allows counties to put money into the program. In the current way the pilot program works, no government money at all can go to it. 

What's the state need here? 

Sexton: The Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach MSA (metropolitan statistical area) is ground zero for newly diagnosed individuals with HIV in the nation. In 2017, I think that the Miami MSA ranked first in the nation for HIV infection diagnoses. There's definitely a need for the legislation. The senator included an amendment in his bill last week that makes it a lot more palatable to a lot of the players involved from the Department of Health to local county commissions. 

How so? 

Braynon: We had some pushback from the Sheriffs Association. They still see addiction as a crime. Not as much as a health issue. To appease them, we allowed the opt-in. Our original bill had an opt-out clause, which was if your county doesn't want to do it they can opt out. So we reversed that to be an opt-in. And the legislation doesn't require you to do a lot of the things that we do here in Miami, but now we've put many of those things into the bill. Exactly what we do: giving out the pamphlets, making sure we're taking tests. All the things we do here we found as best practices. They're now in the bill.