Drug Policy Alliance, Harm Reduction Advocates Applaud Legislature, Urge Gov. Scott to Sign into Law
TALLAHASSEE–With overwhelming bipartisan support, today the Florida House passed SB 242, also known as IDEA (“Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act”). SB 242 had passed the Senate in a 37-2 vote last week, and Rep. Katie Edwards, House sponsor of companion bill, HB 81, brought the Senate version to the floor for its successful vote today.
Florida leads the nation in new HIV cases, while Miami-Dade and neighboring Broward are #1 and #2 in the nation, respectively, for the rate of new HIV infections per 100,000 residents.
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 a major 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.
Julia Negron, Project Director for the Suncoast Harm Reduction Project, and parent advocate, issued the following statement, reacting to today’s news:
“The Florida Legislature did the right thing today by passing this critically important bill. In particular, Sen. Oscar Braynon and Rep. Katie Edwards are heroes for sponsoring this lifesaving legislation. Please, Gov. Scott: sign IDEA into law as soon as it hits your desk.”
Harm reduction advocate and philanthropist, Joy Fishman, whose son died of a heroin overdose in Miami-Dade County, testified in support of HB 81 during its hearing the House Health and Human Services Committee. She reacted to today’s Senate vote, saying, “Words cannot express my gratitude to Sen. Braynon and Rep. Edwards for successfully taking up this cause. I hope they understand that what they have done will save lives, plain and simple. I truly hope that Gov. Scott understands that and will make IDEA the law of the land as soon as possible so we can begin this important work.”
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.
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.
“There’s now a scientific and political consensus that drug use is best treated as a health issue,” said Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “To start saving lives, Florida needs to follow the lead of states all over the country that have passed syringe access reforms to significantly reduce rates of HIV and other preventable diseases.”
Dr. Hansel Tookes, who first brought the basis of IDEA to Sen. Braynon in 2013, and who will lead the efforts at the University of Miami to create the syringe exchange authorized under IDEA, said, “The fourth time is a charm, I suppose. I’m thrilled that we were finally able to get this passed. It unequivocally could not have happened without Sen. Braynon’s leadership. I stand at the ready to begin putting this program in place, and saving lives, as soon as we can.”