Manatee County Commissioners approve syringe exchange program

Syringe Exchange Program

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - It’s been a year and a half in the making, but now it’s official. A new syringe exchange program is making its way to Manatee County.

Tuesday, Manatee County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the program, which Twill replace any drug user’s dirty syringe with a new one in an effort to decrease the spread of infectious diseases and offer them resources.

Joshua Barnett, the health care services manager for Manatee County, said the program will give drug users a safe place where they will be offered numerous services.

Manatee is the first county on the Suncoast to adopt this program.

County staff said this will attack the opioid epidemic and decrease the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis. They also say this program will help reduce the number of used syringes left on Manatee County streets.

The county said offering an anonymous location for drug users to exchange their syringes will provide an opportunity to offer them counseling, resources and education.

The facility that will house the syringe exchange program is yet to be determined, but staff will decide between a hospital, medical school, federally qualified health center or a substance use treatment agency.

Some critics have been vocal in their opposition of this program saying it will only enable the drug users. Staff said that isn’t true.

“We’ve learned so much about harm reduction," said Joshua Barnett, health care services manager with Manatee County. “The same thing was said about nalaxone and what we’ve learned is it does save lives and give the people the treatment and this is just one more program that has evidence to do the same.”

Barnett also added that this program will not be funded by taxpayers, but instead through grants and donations.

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