Heroin epidemic requires community action



Significant shifts in drug-abuse patterns are currently under way in South Florida and across the nation. These changes require more opportunities for addiction recovery and awareness about them particularly for families and friends of an addicted loved one. As a Miami Herald story on May 13 noted, those changes include new heroin epidemics fueled by prescription-drug addiction in South Florida.

Inner-city drug markets are expanding and becoming open-air shooting galleries. We are also seeing new drug markets in suburban communities and smaller cities supplied by increased and improved heroin and methamphetamine production from Mexico. These same epidemics are creating new subgroups of users who inject drugs. Changing patterns of addiction in the 21st century are starting to look more like the second half of the 19th century, which introduced morphine as “folk medicine” and the then-new miracle pharmaceutical, heroin. Then came the invention of the syringe “to reduce morphine addiction.”

The Department of Health and Human Services projects there are 419,512 persons in Florida “in need of, but not receiving treatment for drug (not including alcohol) abuse or dependency,” including 108,114 in the four southeast Florida counties. When Alvah Chapman and University of Miami President Tad Foote started The Miami Coalition for a Drug-Free Community 25 years ago, they understood that before we could become a drug-free community we must become a “recovering community.” Recovery-friendly communities and their elected officials welcome programs that help families and neighborhoods through the healing and rehabilitation process.

Today’s need for addiction recovery includes the availability of multilevel assistance with both outpatient and residential services with particular attention to opiate (heroin and prescription pain relievers) addiction and injecting-drug use. Outpatient services may be private therapists, or physicians who can prescribe buprenorphine for narcotic withdrawal, as well as expanding methadone programs so they are accessible to today’s clients. Day treatment provides another option.

Residential programs include hospital-based, private and public programs and long-term Therapeutic Communities. These TCs, where addicts stay a year or longer, are self-sustained and operate their own businesses to pay for the program. They are particularly effective for so many of the clients we are seeing wandering the streets of South Florida today. Yet there is no traditional TC in our area largely because neighbors and some public officials do not yet understand the benefits of being a recovery-friendly community.

Marvin’s Corner is a Therapeutic Community that is ready to restore lives and improve a South Florida neighborhood. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and several county commissioners have helped identify vacant buildings that could also be restored once local residents approve. Marvin’s Corner will remodel the building and improve neighborhoods while saving lives and families. Our program is self-reliant and will provide its services at no cost to the public.

Miami-Dade residents should tell their commissioners that they and their neighbors are a recovery-friendly community who would welcome us to not only restore an abandoned building but to saves lives as well.

Rabbi Solomon Schiff is director emeritus of The Jewish Chaplaincy Program and executive vice president emeritus of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami. Jon Schmidt is the founder and director of Marvin’s Corner Therapeutic Community.

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