Palm Beach push­ing for nee­dle ex­change

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Skyler Swisher Staff writer

Palm Beach County wants the state to al­low heroin users to swap dirty nee­dles for clean ones.

The county plans to push for ex­pan­sion of a nee­dle ex­change pro­gram started in Mi­ami.

The county has seen a dra­matic rise in opi­oid and heroin deaths in re­cent years, and of­fi­cials fear in­tra­venous drug use as­so­ci­ated with the epi­demic could spread dis­ease.

“The next wave we may be see­ing is hep­ati­tis as well as an in­crease in HIV,” said Re­becca De La Rosa, the county’s leg­isla­tive af­fairs di­rec­tor.

South Florida led the na­tion in new HIV cases in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent data avail­able from the Centers for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven-

tion in At­lanta.

Last year, state leg­is­la­tors ap­proved the first nee­dle-ex­change pi­lot pro­gram for Mi­ami-Dade County. The Univer­sity of Mi­ami runs the pro­gram.

The state au­tho­rized a five-year test and did not pro­vide any pub­lic monies for the pro­gram, which is funded through pri­vate grants and do­na­tions.

While pub­lic health of­fi­cials widely sup­port ac­cess to clean nee­dles, op­po­nents ar­gue clean-nee­dle pro­grams sup­port il­le­gal drug use. The pro­grams typ­i­cally of­fer ed­u­ca­tion and dis­ease test­ing, along with pro­vid­ing sy­ringes.

Palm Beach County Com­mis­sioner Melissa McKin­lay said she would like to see a pro­gram sim­i­lar to Mi­ami’s be­cause it would re­duce harm to ad­dicts.

“We would be repli­cat­ing it up here,” she said. “It’s a pub­lic health is­sue.”

Com­mis­sion­ers also want more money to fund drug treat­ment pro­grams and men­tal health ser­vices, along with money to buy the over­dose re­ver­sal drug Nar­can. The county has 24 pub­licly funded detox beds to serve a pop­u­la­tion of nearly 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple.

On Mon­day, Gov. Rick Scott ex­tended a pub­lic health emer­gency for the opi­oid epi­demic in Florida. Scott will un­veil a pro­posal that will in­clude “sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in fund­ing,” spokeswoman Lauren Schenone wrote in an email. She did not spec­ify how much fund­ing would be in­creased un­der the plan.

County com­mis­sion­ers ap­proved their other lob­by­ing pri­or­i­ties Tues­day, in­clud­ing:

Al­lo­cat­ing more money to com­bat home­less­ness and of­fer hous­ing as­sis­tance to low- and mod­er­ate-in­come renters and buy­ers;

Pro­hibit­ing the use of drones around jails, law en­force­ment fa­cil­i­ties, court­houses and other county build­ings;

Re­quir­ing elected city of­fi­cials to live within the dis­tricts they rep­re­sent;

Strength­en­ing over­sight of pub­lic hous­ing au­thor­i­ties;

Fund­ing sev­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal projects, in­clud­ing $22.1 mil­lion for beach and shore pro­tec­tion projects.

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