On July 1, 2019, Republican governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that provides for clean needle exchange throughout the state of Florida. Legalization of needle exchanges is an important step for Florida, as it maintains a high level of intravenous drug use and substance abuse issues. Needle exchanges have been permitted on a contingency basis to certain counties in Florida. With this new bill, needle exchanges can be implemented in any county without special permission. This measure opens the door for a significantly increased level of community involvement and support in drug abuse prevention and recovery assistance.
The bill allows qualified providers to offer sterile needle exchange programs in accordance with regulations. Pilot projects that were initiated under earlier, county-specific rulings will now be included under this law. Individual counties will still oversee the implementation and operation of these programs,
The Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association explains that needle exchange programs used in Miami have helped on two fronts:
- Providing face-to-face interaction with people who use drugs is an opportunity to influence them toward recovery
- Needle exchange programs help stop the spread of disease
Cities like Miami categorize these services as “pre-arrest,” intended to divert people with substance abuse issues from crime and entering the justice system. The statewide measures provide needle exchange for people addicted to drugs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outline certain guidelines for implementing syringe services:
- Provision of sterile needles and syringes
- Provision of other drug equipment and disposal
- May include counseling on risk reduction for injection as it relates to disease
- Screening for diseases
- Provision of naloxone
- Referrals for medical care and vaccinations
- Referrals to substance abuse treatment
- Referrals to mental health care and other support programs
Having standards for operations and professional operators are essential components to the success of these programs. According to a Fiscal Impact Statement assessing the benefit of infectious disease prevention programs, implementing clean needle exchanges costs the state nothing. Floridians stand to lose nothing and benefit a great deal from these programs.
Do Needle Exchanges Help Decrease Drug Use or Disease?
Needle exchanges have proven effective in directing people with substance abuse issues toward alternatives, such as rehabilitation. By inviting people who use drugs to use clean resources, relationships can be built with care providers. These relationships may provide opportunities for intervention and recovery services.
Multiple diseases can be transmitted by using unclean needles to inject drugs, including:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
The prevalence of some of these communicable diseases in the state of Florida increases the risk that people who use unclean needles will contract them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the state of Florida, 4,849 people were diagnosed with AIDS in 2015. In that same year, Florida was ranked the first in all fifty states for the rate of HIV diagnoses. It is vital that people who are intentionally injecting themselves with drugs using needles have access to clean equipment because this is the only way to ensure that diseases do not spread through these means.
There are many benefits to needle exchange programs for people who use drugs. Florida has made a step in the right direction toward providing helpful services to its residents who struggle with drug addiction.