Syringe exchange is proven effective at reducing transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C, and in linking people who inject to drug treatment and other services.
The federal government recently lifted the ban on federal funding for syringe access programs.
But lack of political leadership, and state statutes are barriers to implementation of syringe exchange in many places including Florida.
Florida is a state with a large population, a large population of injection drug users, and high incidence of HIV and Hepatitis C.
For a great read about the barriers to establishing syringe exchange programs in Florida (and the same applies to many other states), see this well done article by Robin Williams Adams in The Ledger (a Lakeland, Florida newspaper) here.
“Science has shown these programs reduce HIV transmission and do not increase use of illegal drugs,” said Nikki Kay, a CDC spokeswoman.
“Chapter 893 of Florida statutes makes it unlawful to conduct a syringe exchange program,” said Susan Smith, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health. “We implement policies set forth by the Legislature.”
The law makes it a third-degree felony “to deliver, possess with intent to deliver, or manufacture with intent to deliver drug paraphernalia, knowing, or under circumstances where one reasonably should know” that it would be used to inject, ingest or inhale an illegal substance.
“When are we going to listen to the facts and act on them?” (Dave Purchase, North American Syringe Exchange Network) said. “People’s lives are at stake.”
Preventing syringe-exchange programs also increases the cost of HIV treatment, Purchase said.
The cost of treating HIV infection for a lifetime averages at least $300,000 per person, he said. Money saved by preventing infections could go to drug treatment and prevention.
“You need people in the health departments to stand up and say, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’ ” (Allan Clear, Harm Reduction Coalition) said. “It’s such a proven method.”