Florida: Urgent Syringe Access Reform Unanimously Passes Key Committee Vote, Now Headed to Floor Vote in State House

Press Release February 16, 2016
Media Contact

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<p>Ben Pollara (305) 989-4901<br />
Tony Newman (646) 335-5384</p>

Today, the Health and Human Services Committee (“HHS”) of the Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 81, also known as IDEA (“Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act”). HHS was the bill’s final committee of reference in the House and now moves to the chamber’s floor for a vote of the full Florida House. Its Senate companion, SB 242, is likewise awaiting a floor vote in that chamber.

Florida leads the nation in new HIV cases, while Miami-Dade and neighboring Broward are #1 and #2, respectively, among U.S. counties for new HIV cases.

IDEA would create a pilot program in Miami-Dade County, run by the University of Miami, to establish sterile syringe exchanges. Such programs have a proven, decades-long track record of preventing the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, in addition to being an entryway to treatment for people who use drugs. The sponsor of the Senate legislation, Sen. Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens, has been introducing a similar bill since the 2013 legislative session. Rep. Katie Edwards of Plantation is the lead sponsor of HB 81 in the Florida House.

Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, issued the following statement, reacting to today’s news:

“We are cautiously optimistic that Florida – thanks to the courageous leadership of Sen. Braynon and Rep. Edwards – will finally take this critical step to save lives and reduce problematic drug use. We urge the leadership of Florida’s House and Senate to bring these bills to the floor and send them to Gov. Scott’s desk to sign as quickly as possible.”

Piper continued, “IDEA may be just a first step for Florida, but it's one of great importance. A pilot program in Miami-Dade, combined with Congress’ recent repeal of the ban on federal money funding such programs, bode well for the future of syringe exchanges being adopted more broadly in Florida and delivering a huge blow to the spread of infectious disease in the state.”

Harm reduction advocate and philanthropist, Joy Fishman, whose son died of a heroin overdose in Miami-Dade County, testified today in support of HB 81. She stated, “it is my heart’s duty to speak out in support of this program. Access to clean syringes helps addicts find the help they need and prevents the spread of HIV/AIDS – at no cost to the state of Florida. IDEA will save lives.”

IDEA is supported by the Florida Medical Association and syringe access programs are supported by every major medical and public health organization, including the American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, and U.S. Conference of Mayors. In addition to these supporters, IDEA has the strong backing of the Florida Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”), the largest organization of healthcare workers in Florida – over 55,000 current and former nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers in the state. A group of nearly 100 nurses from Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital travelled to Tallahassee today to lobby for IDEA’s passage.

In addition to significantly reducing the spread of infectious diseases by people who use drugs, syringe exchange programs save the lives of police, firefighters and other first responders. Police are regularly stuck with syringes in the line of duty (a study of police officers in Rhode Island found nearly 1 in 3 officers had been stuck by a syringe in their career). Law enforcement leaders across the nation – including former Director of the White House Office of National Drug Policy Control, Gil Kerlikowske, and former Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti – are strong proponents of syringe exchanges, for their own safety and for that of the communities they serve.

Dr. Hansel Tookes, who first brought the basis of IDEA to Sen. Braynon in 2013, and who has been a strong advocate for syringe exchange programs in Miami-Dade, expressed cautious optimism, “I sincerely hope IDEA finally passes this session. Every year that passes without a syringe exchange program in our community is a year that takes lives, puts even more lives at risk and drains precious resources from our already strained healthcare system. I want Senators and Representatives to hear our plea: bring these bills the floor, send them to the Governor to sign, and let 2016 be the year that you voted to start saving lives and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS in Florida.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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