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Bill to expand Miami-Dade needle exchange program will not pass this year, sponsor says

Needle exchange

A bill that would have expanded Miami-Dade's needle exchange program to other counties will not pass this year despite a late compromise to limit its scope to just Broward and Palm Beach, its sponsor said.

HB 579/SB 800 would have allowed needle exchange programs to operate in the rest of South Florida, after the Legislature approved a five-year pilot program in Miami-Dade in 2016. The current program, run by the University of Miami, exchanges needles to cut down on the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases among drug users. It also distributes overdose reversing drugs and offers access to substance abuse counseling.

Though the legislation passed the Senate and its final House committee, Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said House leadership does not plan to take the bill up on the floor, dooming its chances for passage. "[Senate sponsor Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens] and I are upset, but committed to bringing this back next year," he said.

The bill initially called for allowing such needle exchange programs to expand statewide — operating a needle exchange outside Miami-Dade is currently not legal in Florida. But the Florida Sheriffs Association objected to the language after it reached the Senate floor, saying the bill should give law enforcement input in approving the programs.

That prompted Jones and Braynon to limit the expansion to just Broward and Palm Beach, which had officials who had already expressed interest in allowing needle exchanges to operate in their counties. But the compromise was not enough to prompt House leaders to agree to take up the bill, Jones said.

Hansel Tookes, the University of Miami medical professor who spearheads the program and was the pilot program's chief advocate, said he had already started having conversations in both counties to expand the existing program.

"This is not innovation. This is used everywhere," Tookes said. "They're saying we're not deserving of a program that's going to save lives in that part of the state."

Photo: Miami Herald