Staff discuss ways to implement statewide needle syringe program bill in Manatee County

Legislators open door for syringe exchange program

SARASOTA (WWSB) - A needle exchange program could soon be coming to the Suncoast.

In a unanimous vote, the Florida Senate passed a bill that would allow a syringe swap program in every county in Florida.

Health Care Services staff said in Manatee County, syringes can be found in places as remote as an obscure tree or as common as a park where children are playing.

The syringe exchange program would allow Schedule IV drug users to bring in needles that they have used or found and exchange them for clean, un-used needles. It aims to prevent the spread of HIV/aids and other infectious diseases that are spread by using dirty syringes.

The bill, now sitting on Governor Desantis’ desk for final approval, would allow for the expansion of the pilot syringe exchange program in Miami-Dade.

Since that program began in 2016, it’s taken tens of thousands of used syringes off Miami streets and placed hundreds of drug users in rehab programs.

Though critics believe this enables drug users, Health Care Services staff said it provides a safe space to get them help.

“We know that they’re currently using, they’re injecting in silence and we need to give them a resource that allows them to stop the transmission or prevent the acquiring of a blood borne pathogen or transmittable illness so we can give them the information necessary to get them involved in treatment,” explained Joshua Barnett, Health Care Services manager with Manatee County Government.

About half the states in the U.S. have either no syringe exchange program or only have programs available in one or two cities in the entire state.

Staff in Manatee County said they’re now in the process of gathering data and information to present to County Commissioners for them to decide if this is a program they will adopt there.

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