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Bill Creating Needle Exchange Pilot Program Passes First Senate Panel

MGN Online
Credit MGN Online
MGN Online

A bill establishing a needle exchange pilot program in South Florida to help reduce HIV/AIDS is now starting to move in both chambers of the Legislature, after passing its first Senate committee Monday.

The measure has been filed for several years, as Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) pointed out Monday, during the bill’s first hearing this year in the Senate Health Policy Committee—the panel he chairs.

“If you’re thinking we’ve seen this bill before, we have. It indeed has passed this committee last year—I think for the last two years. Isn’t that correct, Senator Braynon,” asked Bean, during the hearing.

That’s correct,” Sen. Oscar Braynon replied.

The Miami Gardens Democrat is the bill’s Senate sponsor—who’s been working to pass the bill for three years. He says the measure establishing a needle exchange pilot program in Miami-Dade comes with a change. And, no state funds would be needed.

“Yup, there’s been one change that we made last year at the suggestion of the Surgeon General,” Braynon continued. “It was run by Jackson Health System and the Health Department. Now, it will be run by the University of Miami to establish this program. Other than that, it’s the same bill.”

With the aim of reducing the transmittal of HIV/AIDS, the pilot would allow drug users to exchange used needles for clean syringes.

The measure has several backers, including Florida Public Health Association, AIDS Institute, Florida Hospital and Medical Associations.

Phillip Zegelboe representing the Florida Medical Association is now a third year Medical student at the University of South Florida College of medicine. Born and raised in Hollywood, Florida, he says he remembers spending much of his childhood in Broward and Dade Counties.

“I can remember seeing from my school bus window, seeing intravenous drug users abusing drugs in the bushes,” said Zegelboe, during a House hearing earlier this month. “And, this was way back when. As recently as 2013, things have gotten much worse with the National Institute of Drug Abuse classifying the heroin outbreak in Miami Dade County as an epidemic. Miami is at the intersection of drug abuse and an infectious disease epidemic. HIV-Instance in Miami is the highest in the country where over 2,000 injection drug users—a fifth of them with HIV and a third of them with Hepatitis C.”

He spoke during the bill’s first House hearing, which passed on the second day of session.

“Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami has a staff analysis that’s been performed that assesses that 10 percent of the intravenous drug users could avoid an infection with this bill—which would save our state about 124 million in treatment costs,” added Zegelboe.

Another backer of the bill is Rep. Bobby Dubose (D-Fort Lauderdale).

“With this particular pilot program—and I think there’s over 30 states that’s already on board with doing something similar—and being that South Florida is number one and number two in the nation, I think that we’re kind of behind the curveball with this, and we need to get up to speed,” said Dubose.

While the measure passed the House Healthy Quality Subcommittee on the second day of session, it did get some opposing votes. The measure’s House sponsor is Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Plantation), who had some words to say to those dissenters.

“I would bend over backwards and do everything I can to make sure that no family has to experience what mine has, when it comes to addiction,” said Edwards, holding back tears. “So, I take it very personal to my colleagues who are in my peer group that don’t get that this is still a very pertinent, very personal issues to thousands of families across this state. Let’s not pretend that there isn’t an epidemic.”

Rep. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) was among the two opposing votes, questioning whether the bill prohibits county money from going towards the program as it does state funds.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner .

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