Palm Beach pushing for needle exchange
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.