Florida Governor Rick Scott has signed the IDEA Act (“Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act”), after it passed the Florida House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support this week.
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.
The new law will 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.
Florida’s law follows in the footsteps of Indiana and Kentucky, which both passed similar syringe access reforms last year. Also last year, the Republican-led Congress lifted the decades-long ban on federal funding for syringe access programs.
“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. “Florida has finally followed the lead of states all over the country that have passed syringe access reforms to significantly reduce rates of HIV and other preventable diseases. Hopefully this pilot syringe program is just the beginning of major changes in Florida.”
Harm reduction advocate and philanthropist, Joy Fishman, whose son died of a heroin overdose in Miami-Dade County, testified in support of the bill during its hearing the House Health and Human Services Committee. She reacted to today’s news, saying, “This will save lives, plain and simple. I am relieved that we can finally 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.
Dr. Hansel Tookes, who will lead the efforts at the University of Miami to create the syringe exchange authorized under IDEA, said, “I’m thrilled that we were finally able to get this passed. I stand at the ready to begin putting this program in place, and saving lives, as soon as we can.”