The paradox of Joy Fishman’s life has turned her pain into purpose.
She lost her son, Jonathan Stampler, at age 32 to a heroin overdose 10 years ago though her husband — Jonathan’s stepfather — had invented the drug that could have saved him. Jonathan died at Hialeah Hospital, where his companions had left him and fled.
It was just this ironic thing that my husband was the innovator of the drug that would have saved my son’s life.
“It was just this ironic thing that my husband was the innovator of the drug that would have saved my son’s life,” she said.
“He was a great kid. He was a hugger. You know those bear hugs? He was six feet tall and he would give these bear hugs — that I miss. I could feel him with those bear hugs.”
Now she’s helping raise money to pay for Miami-Dade County’s new syringe exchange program — the first in the state — hosting a fundraiser in her Bal Harbour home a few weeks ago that brought in about $100,000, including $50,000 she donated herself. As part of her involvement, she teamed with Dr. Hansel Tookes, a University of Miami physician who was the driving force behind the passage of the law.
The program is designed to help injection drug users obtain clean needles so they don’t become infected with HIV or Hepatitis C. It also will serve as an opening for addicts to get healthcare and treatment if they want it.
She’s dedicated to the effort for her son — and also for her late husband, Jack Fishman, a doctor and former head of the pharmaceutical company Ivax. He invented Naloxone, also known as Narcan, the life-saving drug that can reverse overdoses from heroin and other painkillers. The so-called “save shot” drug was used most famously to revive the rock star Prince when he overdosed days before his death.
For years after Fishman’s son died, she withdrew from the world. But a few years ago, after she had grieved and struggled and grieved some more, she became active with the Drug Policy Alliance and the “harm reduction” movement that seeks to reduce harms of drug use.
“When they approached me [and said] there was no needle exchange program in Florida, I was shocked. Somehow you just assume that these things are in place,” she said.
When the bill to create the syringe exchange program was being heard by the Legislature this year, she went to Tallahassee to testify. “They did not pass a law because of my story. They passed a law because they were educated. …And I think what clinched it was the reality that not only are we going to give them clean needles, we are going to give them options. They can go to treatment — we will be able to refer them.”
And the program, which will be operated by the University of Miami, will include the use of Naloxone.
She pulls out a pouch containing a nasal spray with the life-saving opioid antidote. She carries it in her purse, just in case someone needs it.
“I always have it. Everyone should.”