First Needle Exchange in Florida Opened This Month
Author: Justin Mckibben
The heated debate surrounding harm reduction tactics in America, such as safe injection facilities and needle exchange programs, is one that puts the value of preserving life against the fear of promoting drug abuse. Officials in several states are trying to make sure programs like these are an option, but others are fighting hard against them. In March of 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott approved a pilot program from Miami-Date County to establish a needle exchange program. The program was set to be run by the University of Miami. On World AIDS Day, December 1st 2016, the five-year pilot program officially launched. The first needle exchange in Florida is now open to help serve IV drug users in the community.
Florida’s State of Affairs
This progressive and controversial program arrives at a time when Florida’s state of affairs has hit a pretty devastating point. South Florida’s rate of new HIV cases was actually 3 times the national average in the year of 2015! Not to mention the fact Florida, like many other states in the nation, is experiencing rising rates of drug overdose and drug-related death.
University of Miami physician Dr. Hansel Tookes gave a press release to acknowledge the need for new and innovative action. In it he stated,
“Syringe exchange is one of the most evidence-based interventions we have to prevent HIV,”
“As the heroin epidemic in South Florida flourishes, we now have the proper tools to keep this population healthy. Harm reduction works and now Miami will join other progressive U.S. cities to better service our citizens.”
Tookes credits the increasing statistics of HIV and AIDS infection rates for prompting his own action as an advocate for harm reduction. According to local news sources, infection rates in the southern city of Miami have topped state and national charts for years. Like most states, the primary goal of needle exchange in Florida is to prevent the spread of infectious disease that comes from sharing needles.
At the same time, Miami continues to battle the spikes in opioid overdoses. Miami Fire-Rescue stations apparently used Narcan, the overdose antidote, nearly 1,000 times in just the first 9 months of the year. As issues with substance abuse grow, the need to prevent as much suffering as possible is paramount. To that end, minimizing the risk of infection of HIV through needle exchange in Florida is a move in the right direction.
Starting Needle Exchange in Florida
Needle exchange programs have existed since 1983 when Amsterdam opened up their first facility. However, here in the U.S. they’ve consistently been a basis of debate. While the facilities that exist have data to suggest they make a strong positive impact, doubters still believe this kind of program promotes drug use and enables addicts.
Yet public support is now aiming away from the War on Drugs approach. Addiction treatment and harm reduction approaches now have an outpouring in popularity. Florida is actually behind the trend with this. By 2016, Florida was one of just 15 states that still hadn’t established some sort of needle exchange program. Now needle exchange in Florida will open up doors to more progress in prevention and intervention.
Dr. Hansel Tookes fought for years to encourage this kind of change. Tookes testified and worked with other advocates to sway the Republican-controlled state legislature, and is finally happy to see his mission being accomplished.
“When I flew back to Miami after the bill had passed, I looked at the city as we were landing at MIA and I thought, what we just did is going to change the health of tens of thousands of people, and that was an amazing feeling. And that’s an amazing truth. And that’s where we are.”
While active addiction is a devastating way of living, needle exchange in Florida and other similar programs are dedicated to helping save lives. Even if the addicted individual does not get off drugs right away, preventing them from spreading or coming in contact with infectious diseases is absolutely worth the effort. These programs can also give more people the opportunity to actually find addiction treatment.
While harm reduction is never the best solution, often it is a reasonable option to reduce the horrible effects drug addiction can have in a community. Then more people can get the help they need. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
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