Jackson Memorial develops rehab program after 350% spike in overdose cases

By September 2014, Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami had seen less than 40 heroin overdoses for the year. In the same time frame for 2016, Jackson Memorial treated more than 180 heroin overdose patients with 52 cases occurring in September alone, according to the Miami Herald.

The increase can be partly attributed to the rise of heroin laced with the potent, synthetic opioid fentanyl, which has been linked to a string of overdose deaths in the United States in recent months. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than morphine.

"It's much harder to bring them back from the overdose," said Amado Alejandro Baez, MD, an ER physician, at a Wednesday meeting of the Public Health Trust that governs Jackson Health System, Miami-Dade's public hospital network, according to the Herald. "Many of these patients, even those we see in the news, come back two days, three days later with an overdose. What we would like to do is start looking at integrated solutions, looking at the chain of problems."

To fight the surging overdose rates, which involve many non-violent users, hospital administrators and a Miami-Dade drug court judge are developing a pilot rehabilitation program to divert these individuals away from the criminal justice system and into treatment. The new program will serve 50 to 80 patients annually for three years. Treatments will include medication-based therapies and counseling to reduce the rate of recidivism among heroin addicts.

"What we've found here, is that even though we provide inpatient detox, if they're going to leave, or there's not enough beds for residential, or any gaps of care we're not providing in that program, you just end up knowing that you're failing them," Nicoletta Tessler, CEO of Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital in Miami, told the Herald. "We have to make sure we're treating it as the whole scope of care."

The novel rehabilitation program, still in the planning stages, consists of four Miami partners: Jackson Health, the University of Miami Health System, the South Florida Behavioral Health Network and Miami-Dade Circuit Court. Grants from two federal agencies totaling $1.4 million, including $975,000 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and $400,000 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, will fund the three-year program, which, according to Ms. Tessler, will be the first of its kind in South Florida.

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