Last Monday, the Miami police announced a new plan to offer those with opioid addictions a chance to go to rehab instead of arresting them. By using a pair of federal grants totaling $1.6 million, the police department is working with local hospitals including Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital, South Florida Behavioral Health Network, and the University of Miami Health System to develop a pre-arrest diversion program where those found with small amounts of opioids can enter a one-year outpatient treatment program. These programs would capitalize on the use of anti-addiction medication such as medication-assisted treatment programs (MAT), social services, mental health counseling, and general medical care.
“Treating The Whole Patient”
The program has an expected opening date to start offering treatment around May 2019. Police and hospital officials are planning on spending the next six months hiring staff, and working out the details of the program. Dr. Patricia Ares-Romero, chief medical officer of the Behavioral Health Hospital, reported to the Miami Herald that the program could treat around 100 people over the three-year life of the grant. Much of the treatment will be outpatient, but the program will have some capacity for inpatient care.
The ideal length of treatment is 18-24 months, Ares-Romero reported
to the Herald, but the city chose a year to fit the parameters of the grants while offering a substantial amount of care to the patients. She said the diversion program will be a positive step toward tackling addiction in a way that will help people return to a stable lifestyle. She described the range of services that will come with the anti-addiction medication as crucial to “treating the whole patient.”
Medical professionals applauded the announcement at Miami City Hall on Monday. Dr. Hansel Tookes, head of a University of Miami-led needle exchange, said the program is a necessary progressive approach to helping people who are suffering and cannot easily get treatment. Not only will it give addicts access to treatment at the point that they encounter law enforcement, but it will have a broader public health impact across the community.
— hansel tookes (@hanselt) October 15, 2018
Is Miami Changing The Opioid Crisis?
While the new diversion program may come as a breathe of fresh air, homeless people suffering from substance use disorder present a larger challenge for Miami police and public health officials. And, this announcement of the program comes at a time when Miami’s politicians have turned their focus to a group of homeless people living under the Dolphin Expressway in Overtown.
Additionally, just last week the city conducted a mass cleaning of Overtown where police and government bureaucrats showed up in hazmat suits to move the homeless into shelters or drug treatment centers. With increased complaints from Overtown residents in neighboring apartment buildings, the city planned to clean up the sidewalks after health officials investigated new cases of HIV in the area — an inquiry that sparked fears of a serious public health problem.
Another issue is that these grants don’t cover the cost of housing for homeless addicts and alcoholics. Ares-Romero said she hopes to work with partner organizations such as the “Homeless Trust” to make sure there are beds available for those undergoing treatment.
She also said Jackson and the city are already looking for funding to extend the program beyond the three years of the grant, emphasizing the magnitude of the opioid problem.
Florida As A Whole
While Miami is just a small percentage of the population in Florida that’s been hit by the opioid crisis, Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, and Pasco County, which includes Wesley Chapel has been hit equally as hard. In September 2015 the Tampa Bay Times reported that heroin-related deaths in Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, had increased by more than 700% from 2013 to 2014, and were on pace to increase by almost 100% in 2015.
Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that Florida ranked fourth in the United States for total opioid overdose deaths in 2015. The 3,228 opioid-related deaths that occurred in Florida in 2015, which represented a 23% increase from 2014, work out to an average of almost nine opioid-related deaths every day.
In response, on May 3, 2017, Florida Gov. Rick Scott officially declared an opioid-related state of emergency and Surgeon General Celeste Philip declared that opioid abuse was a public health emergency. The same day, the Florida Senate approved a bill that would create more stringent penalties for individuals who illegally sell synthetic drugs such as the powerful opioid, fentanyl.
As Miami officials announce the new diversion program, we can only hope the rest of the state will follow.