Florida Medical Association

FMA Magazine - Q2 2013

Magazine of the Florida Medical Association

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Against the Odds With the FMA's support, four determined medical students got a needle-exchange bill near the finish line – and their work isn't done. By Erika D. Peterman During his public health research, University of Miami Miller College of Medicine student Hansel Tookes had seen countless discarded dirty needles and syringes on Miami's streets – silent evidence of the city's thousands of injection-drug users. But perhaps the most jarring moment was when he almost stepped on a needle that was covered in blood and sitting straight up. Miles away in Florida's capital, Tookes and his fellow FMA Medical Student Section (MSS) members, Chanelle Diaz, Dyani Loo and Marek Hirsch, were fighting for legislation to prevent people from becoming victims of such incidents. During the 2013 Florida legislative session, the four were the biggest advocates for SB 808, an FMA-supported bill that sought to establish a pilot program in Miami-Dade County allowing injection-drug users to exchange dirty needles and syringes for clean ones. Though the bill didn't pass the Legislature, its progress to the Senate floor is a remarkable case study that shows the power of getting involved. 'Without the FMA, there's no way we would have gone as far as we did.' Early on, a legislative aide told Tookes that SB 808 wouldn't survive its first committee stop in the House. "Starting out, we never knew how far it would get," said Tookes, a fourth-year student whose research inspired the legislation. "Coming up and seeing that our research and our advocacy could actually effect change on a statewide level or, in this case, the city of Miami, was an amazing feeling." The movement to create a needle-exchange program is far from over. With some political wind at their backs, advocates for SB 808 are already preparing to revive the measure and get it passed next year. Click here for audio. Click here for video.

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