Senate passes Miami-Dade needle exchange program

Published Feb. 24, 2016

The Florida Senate on Wednesday voted to create a needle exchange program in Miami-Dade County, which supporters say will curb the spread of HIV.

The proposal (SB 242) allows the University of Miami to establish a needle exchange, which would otherwise be illegal under the state's drug paraphernalia laws. No taxpayer mooney could be used for the program.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, has been pushing the program for four years, and it is supported by medical groups, which say allowing drug users to exchange dirty needles for clean ones will help combat HIV in South Florida. Miami-Dade County leads the nation for new cases of the disease per 100,000 residents, and Florida has more new infections than any other state.

In the Senate Wednesday, the program passed swiftly on a 37-2 vote.

The House version of the bill (HB 81) is ready to be taken up by that chamber, which has never passed the program before. But new language that requires the program to direct people to drug treatment options and make educational materials available brought in new supporters. Among them were conservative Republican lawmakers who once viewed a needle exchange as a tacit approval of drug use and the state's surgeon general, Dr. John Armstrong.