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