House panel okays Miami-Dade needle exchange program
Miami-Dade County is one step closer to a needle exchange program aimed at curbing the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
On Wednesday, after being stalled for months, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation (HB 81) by Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, to authorize the program, a critical vote that was delayed for weeks, even as the legislation moved swiftly through the Senate.
Edwards’ bill allows the University of Miami to start a five-year pilot program through which people can exchange used needles for clean ones. The hope is to cut sharing needles between drug users, thereby reducing rates of infection.
“What we see every day in Miami would be considered a public health emergency anywhere else,” Chanelle Diaz, a fourth-year medical student at UM, told lawmakers.
Florida leads the nation for new cases of HIV with the number of infections rising each year, even as it drops nationwide. The problem is most severe in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which have the highest rates of new infections per 100,000 residents of any area in the country.
Edwards’ bill — sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens — exempts UM from drug paraphernalia laws for the purposes of the pilot program. The program can’t use money from state or local governments.
“We’re working with the researchers and physicians there to make sure we are not further spreading infectious diseases through the use of drugs like heroin,” Edwards said.
This is the fourth year lawmakers have proposed a similar program. Some lawmakers have been reticent to vote for it because it addresses drug users without specifically targeting abuse.
“I’m frankly all about personal responsibility,” said Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples.
But Hudson and others voted for the pilot program Wednesday after an amendment supported by the Department of Health added language requiring drug counseling and education to be part of the program. The lone vote opposed was by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.
Now, it heads to the House Health and Human Services Committee before going to the floor. Braynon’s Senate bill (SB 242) needs to be approved by the full Senate.