Following the signing of a needle-exchange bill, Palm Beach County is the first county in Florida to implement a county-based needle exchange program. In June 2019, lawmakers in Florida passed the Infectious Disease Elimination Programs bill, which legalized authorization for counties to create for needle exchange. According to the proponents of such programs, needle exchange options reduce the spread of infections like HIV and hepatitis C among people who use drugs intravenously.

The bill was based on the IDEA Exchange, which was operating in Miami-Dade County under a five-year trial approved by the Florida legislature in 2016. Since that time of implementation, the program has taken more than 275,000 used needles out of circulation. The IDEA Exchange program also hands out Narcan, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses. Program representatives say providing Narcan has reduced more than a thousand overdoses. The IDEA program also offers HIV and hepatitis C testing and connects people to drug treatment and health care.

Before the new legislation in Florida, handing out needles without a prescription was considered a violation of drug paraphernalia possession laws in the state. With the Infectious Disease Elimination Programs Bill, there are now legal guidelines to distribute needles as part of public health initiatives.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay released a statement as the county moved to create their needle exchange program. She said Palm Beach County is excited to be the first county in Florida to pass an ordinance to create this type of program. She went on to say research shows that similar programs help reduce the prevalence of bloodborne diseases.  Counties in Florida don’t have to set up a needle exchange program, as the legislation made it an opt-in law.

Palm Beach County has been hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic, which is one of the reasons they are leading the way in needle exchange programs and opioid overdose prevention. There have been more than 2,000 deaths in Palm Beach County caused by opioid overdoses since 2012.

The Palm Beach ordinance passed unanimously. Based on information from the bill, more than 8,400 people in Palm Beach County are HIV positive. Dr. Scott Rice, representing the Palm Beach County Medical Society, encouraged the county commission to pass the ordinance to help minimize some of the secondary effects of the opioid epidemic, such as increases in HIV cases.

As part of the Palm Beach program, people can swap dirty syringes for clean ones at a ratio of one-to-one. The program will also provide referrals and support to people to receive treatment and medical care, and they will offer overdose reversal drugs like Narcan. Under the state law in Florida, the program can’t receive county funding — it has to come from private grants and donations.

What Is a Needle Exchange Program?

A needle-exchange program is a clinic or office that’s community-based where people who use drugs intravenously can bring used needles. Those needles are then disposed of safely, and people are provided with clean needles in exchange.

Needle exchange programs are considered part of harm-reduction programs, and these are controversial in some cases. Some people feel that needle exchange programs encourage drug use, but others feel they are an important way to keep people safer from the effects of illicit drug use.

The idea of a harm-reduction program is that while drug possession and use are illegal, it’s important to reduce adverse effects as much as possible.

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