Bill Allowing Needle Exchanges in Florida Passes First Legislative Committee

A bill spearheaded by four Miller School students aimed at legalizing the transfer of clean needles and syringes to people in Florida who inject illegal drugs passed its first legislative committee last week, with an amendment that would legalize syringe and needle exchanges specifically in Miami-Dade County on a pilot basis. The Florida House‚Äôs subcommittee on Health Quality unanimously endorsed the amended House Bill 735, which was inspired by third-year student Hansel Tookes’ 2011 study that found eight times the number of publicly discarded needles on the streets of Miami as on the streets of San Francisco, a city that allows illicit drug users to exchange their used syringes for sterile ones.

Such needle exchange programs are illegal in Florida, but Tookes and fellow students Marek Hirsch, Dyani Loo and Chanelle Diaz presented such compelling evidence that needle exchange programs reduce the risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne infections that the Florida Medical Association, numerous county medical societies and other medical organizations supported the House bill sponsored by Rep. Mark S. Pafford of West Palm Beach, and a companion Senate measure sponsored by Senator Gwen Margolis of Miami. The Senate bill has yet to be set for a hearing. For more information or to find out how to support the bills, please visit The Florida Needle Exchange Initiative.

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