The University of Miami Infectious Disease Elimination Act Syringe Services Program: A Blueprint for Student Advocacy, Education, and Innovation

Hansel Tookes, Tyler S. Bartholomew, Joan E. St. Onge, Henri Ford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


After the closure of pill mills and implementation of Florida's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program in 2010, high demand for opioids was met with counterfeit pills, heroin, and fentanyl. In response, medical students at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine embarked on a journey to bring syringe services programs (SSPs) to Florida through an innovative grassroots approach. Working with the Florida Medical Association, students learned patient advocacy, legislation writing, and negotiation within a complex political climate. Advocacy over 4 legislative sessions (2013-2016) included committee testimony and legislative visit days, resulting in the authorization of a 5-year SSP pilot. The University of Miami's Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA) SSP opened on December 1, 2016. Students identified an urgent need for expanded health care for program participants and founded a weekly free clinic at the SSP. Students who rotate through the clinic learn medicine and harm reduction through the lens of social justice, with exposure to people who use drugs, sex workers, individuals experiencing homelessness, and other vulnerable populations. The earliest success of the IDEA SSP was the distribution of over 2,000 boxes of nasal naloxone, which the authors believe positively contributed to a decrease in the number of opioid-related deaths in Miami-Dade County for the first time since 2013. The second was the early identification of a cluster of acute human immunodeficiency virus infections among program participants. Inspired by these successes, students from across the state joined University of Miami students and met with legislators in their home districts, wrote op-eds, participated in media interviews, and traveled to the State Capitol to advocate for decisive action to mitigate the opioid crisis. The 2019 legislature passed legislation authorizing SSPs statewide. In states late to adopt SSPs, medical schools have a unique opportunity to address the opioid crisis using this evidence-based approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-217
Number of pages5
JournalAcademic Medicine
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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