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Palm Beach County Is First To Pass Needle Exchange Bill After New Law Paves The Way For Counties

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Sammy Mack
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Palm Beach County on Tuesday became the first county in Florida to pass a needle exchange bill after the governor’s signature last week paved the way for local governments to establish programs to reduce disease transmission among drug users.

After the success of the IDEA Program, Miami-Dade’s needle exchange pilot, the Florida legislature approved a bill this year allowing other counties to authorize similar programs.

Counties aren’t required to set up needle exchanges – it’s an opt-in law. Palm Beach County started the process before the law was made official.

The county has been one of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. More than 2,000 people have died of opioid overdoses in Palm Beach County since 2012.

In directing county staff to draft a county plan back in May, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said she wanted Palm Beach County “to be the first” to set up a needle exchange under the new statewide law.

It passed unanimously Tuesday morning.

“I’d like to thank my colleagues for making Palm Beach County the first county in the state of Florida to take advantage of this new legislation,” McKinlay said.  “I hope we can put it together just as well as Miami-Dade County.”

According to the county bill, more than 8,400 people in Palm Beach County are HIV positive, and about one new infection occurs each day. Needle exchanges have been shown to reduce transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis.

Dr. Scott Rice, representing the Palm Beach County Medical Society, encouraged the county commission to pass the needle exchange bill in order to minimize the secondary health effects of the opioid epidemic.

“The impact of infection may become greater than the impact of overdoses related to opioid IV use,” he said. “We have not even begun to realize the full impact of these infections.”

In Palm Beach County’s needle exchange, people using the program will be able to swap used syringes for clean ones at a one-to-one rate. The program will also provide or refer people out for counseling for drug abuse prevention, education, treatment and recovery support services, as well as HIV and viral hepatitis screening.

The exchanges will also distribute overdose-reversing drugs like Narcan.

Per the new state law, the county can’t kick in any funding for the needle exchange – it has to be funded by private grants and donations.

Palm Beach County hasn’t yet selected an organization to run its needle exchanges, and consequently doesn’t yet know where they’ll be set up. The sites can be either in a fixed location or offered through mobile health units.

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Madeline Fox is a senior at Northwestern University, where she is double majoring in journalism and international studies. She spent most of her time there writing and editing at the Daily Northwestern, her campus paper, before launching a podcast called Office Hours last spring. Though a native of the much-parodied hipster paradise of Portland, Oregon, Madeline has spent the last three years moving around a lot: Chicago for school, a stint covering transportation policy on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. for Medill News Service and a summer covering news at the Wichita Eagle in Kansas. After finally getting her passport about a year and a half ago, she's been working to fill it with stamps, too: She spent a semester in Sevilla, Spain, to study history; traveled to Israel and the West Bank this summer to learn about Middle East reporting and went to France this winter to conduct interviews for her thesis on the Paris suburbs. When she's not reporting, Madeline can be found cooking, reading or wandering around different parts of the city – nearly always with earbuds in, listening to podcasts. A few of her favorites are Crimetown, Radio Ambulante and Radiolab's More Perfect. She's very excited to be living in Miami, with its many new neighborhoods to explore and its famous food and beaches. After graduation, Madeline hopes to continue working in radio or podcasting.