An overdose revival drug called Naloxone, commonly referred to as its brand name Narcan, can be bought over-the-counter in 14 states, but Florida is not one of them.
With the state’s overdose count increasing, the University of Miami’s IDEA Exchange Center, Florida’s first public clean syringe program, has recently been distributing the revival drug for free at its base location, in 1636 NW 7th avenue in Miami.
On Thursday, the program announced its plans to go mobile - allowing it to provide health services in areas like Miami Beach, Homestead and North-Dade.
Officials say they plan to visit places with reportedly higher substance-abuse like Overtown and Liberty City, next month.
“We want to make ourselves accessible to everyone,” said Emelina Martinez, IDEA Exchange Center’s outreach coordinator. “It doesn’t matter if you’re homeless, it doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, everybody nowadays is getting affected.”
As part of the program, people with substance abuse problems can fill out an anonymous survey to receive badges giving them access to the nasal spray Narcan.
The program also provides HIV and Hepatitis C blood tests, and sterile needles in exchange for dirty ones.
Carlos Padron, a research assistant at the IDEA Exchange Center, says the process to apply is simple.
“Walk right in and we’ll ask you a couple questions, all anonymous, and we’ll give you Narcan right away,” said Padron. “If you have a family member, just talk to us. We’ll work with you.”
Joy Fishman, was in Miami for the announcement. She lost her son to an overdose.
“Don’t treat them like they’re lost souls, they’re not lost souls. This is a sick person. This is not a bad person,” said Fishman.
She along with officials at UM’s IDEA Exchange Center, believe the best way to tackle Florida’s growing overdose problem is to make sure revival drugs and clean paraphernalia is out in the streets.
“Like I always say, I rather have a live user than a dead child,” Fishman said.
Miami’s IDEA Exchange is a five year pilot-program that was approved by the Florida Legislature last year. It started providing services in December 2016 and in the four months that it has been in operation it claims to have provided services to more than 200 people -including tests for HIV and Hepatitis C-, connected 20 people to drug treatment programs and removed 20,000 dirty needles from the streets.
The program began distributing Narcan two weeks ago, and reports its already saved nine lives.
“That’s almost one [life] per day,” said Megan McLemore, a senior researcher for the Human Rights Watch, who has been documenting overdose cases nationally.
She says Miami-Dade County does not stand alone in facing the opioid epidemic - in fact, it’s not even the most affected in Florida.
“If you look at 2015 numbers, Orlando, Sarasota and West Palm Beach all had more fentanyl related overdose deaths than Miami,” McLemore said. “There are other cities in Florida that need syringe exchanges and the legislature needs to address this.”