FL: County’s needle exchange program is ‘the dawn of a new era in public health’

The Palm Beach Post –

Justin Kunzelman has come a long way since handing out naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, out of the trunk of his car.

But Friday will be “the dawn of a new era in public heath for our county,” he said.

Rebel Recovery Florida, co-founded by Kunzelman and Nancy McConnell, will begin offering clean syringes in exchange for used ones as part of a public health strategy that aims to reduce the spread of infectious diseases and link addicts to health and human services.

The needle exchange program — called FLASH, which stands for Florida Access to Syringe and Health Services — will be available in a mobile unit outside of Compass Community Center in Lake Worth Beach on Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. More locations may be identified in the future.

Anyone who wants to make an exchange must register with Rebel Recovery, but they will remain anonymous, Kunzelman said. The participant will be given a purple ID card that lets law enforcement know they are in possession of a syringe as part of the program.

Participants can also request sterile equipment used in drug injection, like clean water and cotton, and will have access to HIV and viral hepatitis testing. In their own time, they can use the program as a bridge to directly seek recovery services and more.

While a key purpose of the program is directed toward intravenous drug users, anyone is able to exchange used needles for clean ones, whether they be diabetic or receiving hormone treatments.

Mike Sluzenski, a peer recovery support specialist with Rebel Recovery, emphasized the importance of reaching “the most marginalized and stigmatized members of our community.”

“Engaging with that population, we’re able to show them that someone actually cares, because a lot of the time, nobody else does,” he said.

Palm Beach County became the first county in Florida to approve a needle exchange program after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law in 2019 letting counties do so. The county picked Rebel Recovery last year to run its program.

The 2019 law was passed following the success of Miami-Dade’s pilot exchange program, approved by lawmakers in 2016. The one-to-one needle exchange in Miami actually led to thousands of syringes being taken out of the community.

The program, by law, cannot be supported with public dollars, so Rebel Recovery has had to rely on private donations. It will be County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay’s priority to change that in the next legislative session.

“I don’t know why we have that restriction in the law,” she said. “This is about harm reduction first and foremost. It’s about treating people who have a medical condition with dignity and respect and empathy and compassion.”

That was something McConnell lacked through her Heroin

" target="_blank" >heroin addiction when she was homeless and on the streets.

“I couldn’t tell you which was worse: somebody driving by and looking through you, or driving by you and looking at you with such contempt,” McConnell said.

She doesn’t want anyone to experience what she and Kunzelman went through to get help. The exchange program will be one more tool Rebel Recovery has to prevent that.

“We’re not done, I”ll tell you that,” she said.

Casey Messer, who manages the county’s Ryan White Program, which provides services for people living with HIV, said the program was “a long time coming.”

“It’s something that we had legislative barriers, we had philosophical barriers to getting to this day,” Messer said. “We hope to serve as a best practice model so this can expand to every county throughout Florida.”

Rebel Recovery and the county will be measuring the progress and success of the program by tracking how many syringes are given out and received, the number of new HIV infections in the community, how many people seek treatment and more.

In one year, they hope to reach 200 people and exchange 210,000 syringes.

But success is more than the numbers, said John Hulick, senior program manager for the county’s Office on Substance Use Disorders.

“We tend to want to look at a number or look at a cost savings, but the impact on an individual in their life — someone has compassion for them and they’re not feeling judged — that’s immeasurable,” he said.

For more information, visit flashexchange.org or call 561-508-8388.

Article Link

Tags: Needle Exchange Opioid Epidemic Programs" >Overdose Reversal Drug
  • Term: ME: Portland’s needle exchange program stands alone in keeping strict rules
  • " >Needle Exchange Program
  • Term: Vancouver Votes to Decriminalise All Drugs: What Now?
  • " >Harm Reduction
  • Term: Vancouver Votes to Decriminalise All Drugs: What Now?
  • " >Addiction
  • Term: ID: Lewiston woman charged with felony after newborn tests positive for opioids, amphetamines
  • " >Heroin

    Copyright © 2021 - NADDI. All Rights Reserved.

    Disclaimer / Privacy Policy / Copyright Policy

    Log in with your credentials

    Forgot your details?