Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed legislation allowing residents to access syringe exchange programs.
The legislation approved by the Republican legislature, called The Infectious Disease Elimination Programs bill, had bipartisan support. Now, Florida counties can authorize local needle exchange programs, many of which are based on Miami’s Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA) exchange. The Miami program, approved in 2016, is largely viewed as a success.
Why Is Florida Authorizing Needle Exchange Programs?
Currently, only 22 American states have legalized syringe exchange programs, including Florida.
Maria Sanchez-Moreno, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance in Florida, is acutely aware of the state’s soaring overdose rates. Sanchez-Moreno affirms that it’s important for government officials and policymakers to use evidence-based policies to help people who struggle with substance abuse.
According to recent reports, the Orlando region has the second-highest rate of new diagnoses of HIV in the country. There were 718 new cases diagnosed in the Orlando metro in 2017. Before that, Orlando was sixth in terms of U.S. cities with the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses.
In 2017, Central Florida had an HIV rate of 28.6 new diagnosed cases per 100,000 people, putting them ahead of cities like Atlanta and New Orleans. The only metro area in Florida with a higher rate than Orlando was the region containing Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
The Push for Safe Injection Sites
The authorization of needle exchange programs in Florida is part of the national push for more compassionate care for people who struggle with substance use disorders. Doctors and therapists often speak out, saying that to curb deaths from the opioid epidemic, the goal shouldn’t be criminal punishment of people who use drugs. Instead, cities and towns should try to give them safe and clean places to inject drugs, but at the same time make treatment available.
Of course, not everyone agrees with such measures. For example, there was an extreme backlash in Philadelphia following the recent introduction of safe injection sites.
The Trump administration introduced a lawsuit attempting to prevent the creation of safe injection sites in Philadelphia, saying it only encourages drug abuse.
Florida’s IDEA Program
The University of Miami’s Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA) Exchange is the program that Florida is modeling other exchange programs after. The program has reduced not only the transmission of diseases but also overdose rates.
The Florida Legislature approved the IDEA program in 2016 after Hansel Tookes, the IDEA Exchange Director lobbied for the program’s implementation for years.
As part of this program, workers give out syringes at a location in Miami. Doctors can also dispense needles from backpacks or a mobile van, as well as their offices.
Program leaders say the number of syringes found on the streets since the program was launched has dropped significantly. In 2018, the program threw away 11,000 more needles than were distributed. The program says it’s also been able to reverse more than 1,000 overdoses with the use of naloxone (brand name Narcan), which is an opioid overdose-reversal drug.
Florida is leading the way in terms of Republican-led, southern states pushing for more compassionate approaches to substance abuse and addiction.
If you or someone you know needs addiction treatment, don’t wait to get help. Call Orlando Recovery Center today to speak with someone about comprehensive treatment in your area.
Iannelli, Jerry. “Vital Miami Needle Exchange Faces Needless Pushback From Officials.” Miami New Times, March 1, 2019. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Mack, Sammy. “Key Florida Republicans Now Say Yes To Clean Needles for Drug Users.” NPR, June 27, 2019. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Miller, Naseem S. “Orlando region ranks No. 2 for new HIV diagnoses among large U.S. cities.” Orlando Sentinel, May 29, 2019. Accessed July 5, 2019.