The opioid abuse crisis in Overtown, FL has reached new heights and officials are desperate to find a solution. In response to the recent increase of Hepatitis C and HIV transmissions caused by heroin abuse among the homeless, Miami officials are investigating areas known for high drug use and working to find solutions.
Recently, four roads beneath the Dolphin Expressway were blocked to vehicular traffic and placed under police surveillance. By doing so, city commissioners hope to identify drug dealers responsible for feeding the heroin abuse epidemic in the area. Representatives from multiple local and state agencies also held an emergency meeting with a local circuit judge. Hoping to develop a plan designed to help people in need find treatment for drug addiction, their goal is to shut down this apparent hub of dangerous drug related activity.
Judee Steve Leifman commented:
“We have to take a public health approach. Any action taken has to be coordinated, lawful and appropriate to get those individual into treatment as quickly as we can and to prevent new individuals with serious opioid addiction from returning to that area.”
Judge Leifman also stated that officials are close to finalizing a plan which will delegate funds and personnel toward taking action toward the next phase.
While the team responsible for this new initiative are optimistic in seeking to increase access to treatment, members within the homeless community have expressed skepticism. They are concerned about the increased police presence and fear persecution. Health workers within the area conducting interviews for further data have asked police not to agitate these fears, is disbursement of the homeless population will only complicate the situation. Their efforts to monitor potential health threats and provide assistance to the ill are at the core of Miami’s push to address substance abuse within the city.
Lilian Rivera, the director of Miami-Dade’s health department, spoke on health care efforts within Overtown:
“We have good disease intervention specialists who can take care of critical patients and who understand the HIV disease. We have to do an epidemiological analysis and all that stuff that comes forward. We’re in the investigative stage, and we don’t know what will come out of it.”
This is not Miami’s only attempt to quell heroin abuse and heroin-related overdoses. The University of Miami operates a needle exchange program which provides clean syringes to prevent sharing of needles and spread of disease. Beyond simply exchanging used needles for new ones, participants in the IDEA Exchange program are also given a clinically supervised space for use, helping to prevent overdose related deaths. They also receive free screenings for Hepatitis and HIV as well as information and resources for seeking addiction treatment. While that program has opponents claiming it empowers drug abuse and endangers communities, evidence has shown its effectiveness.