Needle Exchange Program in Miami Lowers Overdose Death Rate
Written by Ashley Sutphin
IDEA Exchange is a Miami harm reduction and needle exchange program now working to reduce overdose deaths with the distribution of naloxone.
Since 2016, public health officials and advocates in Miami-Dade County have been working to combat the opioid epidemic in Florida through the implementation of a needle exchange program. Along with the needle exchange component of the program, the IDEA Exchange also distributes naloxone. Naloxone is a drug that reverses opioid overdoses and is believed to be responsible for reducing opioid overdose deaths around the country.
According to some of the most recent data, it’s believed naloxone distribution efforts by IDEA Exchange saved 100 lives just in 2018. There was a significant decline in opioid-related deaths in Miami-Dade County in 2018 as well. The total number of overdose deaths was 213, versus 305 in 2017 and 321 in 2016.
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IDEA Exchange in Miami was started by Hansel Tookes, an assistant professor at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. He also serves as the principal director of the school’s harm reduction research group. He directly attributes the decline in opioid overdose deaths to the program and the free naloxone they hand out. The IDEA Exchange first began distributing free naloxone in March 2017. Since that time, they’ve handed out nearly 3,000 boxes of the medication. According to Tookes, those who have gotten naloxone from the clinic to take with them have reported 1,529 overdose reversals since then.
The Exchange itself opened as a way to help with harm reduction in the community in 2016. Harm reduction efforts seek to reduce the links between developing HIV and drug use, and other diseases that come from the use of intravenous drugs. It took years for Tookes to get the needle exchange started in Miami. He eventually got legislative approval for a pilot program in 2016. The IDEA Exchange was then the only legal need exchange in the state of Florida.
Florida Bill Allows Needle Exchanges Statewide
With the IDEA Exchange in Miami, people can turn in used syringes for clean ones so that they aren’t sharing blood-borne diseases. They can also get tested for diseases, get wounds treated and gain access to other social services. Earlier in 2019, Florida lawmakers decided to expand the pilot program across the state. This move meant counties in Florida could give the green light to needle exchanges.
The Miami-Dade Commission is set to have an upcoming vote on an ordinance that would make the needle exchange program permanent and also provide for its expansion. Currently, the Exchange is still a pilot program.
Many lawmakers and public health officials give credit to local first responders and law enforcement officials for the drop in opioid-related deaths as well. For example, Eldys Diaz, an executive officer at the Miami Police Department, said deaths had been reduced because of the needle exchange and the rapid deployment of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. Members also carry naloxone. Diaz also points to the importance of a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice that went to the Addiction Recovery Program in Miami. The grant helps with pre-arrest diversion so that people can go directly to a hospital instead of jail.
Tookes says he’s proud of the work of the program and the effects it’s had statewide. He said the program works with compassion and understanding, and it helps make their efforts more successful than what’s seen in some other cities around the country.
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Conarck, Ben. “Miami-Dade opioid deaths drop by nearly 100. Needle exchange may be the reason.” Miami Herald, November 19, 2019. Accessed December 30, 2019.
Mack, Sammy. “Key Florida Republicans Now Say Yes to Clean Needles for Drug Users.” NPR, June 27, 2019. Accessed December 30, 2019.