Miami officials are hoping that police offers will be able to steer individuals addicted to opioids into treatment instead of jail.
According to the Miami Herald, a new program announced Monday plans to offer people with opioid addictions medical care instead of under arrest. Miami police will use $1.6 million in federal grants to develop a program where individuals found with small amounts of opioids will have the option to enter a one-year outpatient treatment program. They are partnering with the Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital, the South Florida Behavioral Health Network, and the University of Miami Health system along with other agencies to develop the program.
Within the next six months, police and hospital officials expect to hire personnel, set up the program, and train officers in order to start offering treatment by May 2019. The majority of the treatment will be outpatient, but the program will offer some inpatient care.
Dr. Patricia Ares-Romero, the chief medical officer of the Behavior Health Hospital claims that the program could treat upwards of 100 people over the three-year life of the grant. Ares-Romero says that the ideal length of treatment is 18-24 months but the city chose a year to fit the parameters of the grants while offering a significant amount of care to the patients.
Ares-Romero believes that the diversion program will be a positive step towards overcoming addiction in a way that will help people get back to a stability in their life. In addition to anti-addiction medications, the plan also includes social services, mental health counseling, and general medical care. She describes the range of services as crucial to “treating the whole patient.”
The new program will allow law enforcement agents to prioritize bringing dealers into custody rather than users. Police Chief Jorge Colina noted that the program offers a helpful connection between police and medical work. He explained the difficulty that opioid addiction poses for law enforcement officials nationwide. “Addiction may be a law enforcement problem, but there is no law enforcement solution for addiction,” Colina said. “There may, however, be a medical solution.”
More than 130 people die each day from opioid-related drug overdoses, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The same research states that 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids in 2016 and 2017. The staggering statistics have resulted in the officials in President Donald Trump’s administration claiming that the opioid epidemic is a top priority for federal law enforcement agencies. He even unveiled a new anti-opioid abuse plan earlier this year.
On a local level, Miami law enforcement officials hope that the new approach will aid in reducing the opioid trade by using medical intervention to help people overcome addiction. Eldys Diaz, the executive officer to the police chief and one of the people tasked with overseeing the program, told the Miami Herald that if the plan is successful, it has the potential to disrupt the local opioid market.
Medical professionals believe the program is a progressive step to help people who are suffering and cannot get the treatment they need. They believe that it will not only grant individuals access to treatment when they encounter police, but it will also have an impact on public health across the community.