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New Program For Those Hooked On Highly Addictive Opioids Gives Users 'A Second Chance'

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - As the opioid crisis continues to affect the lives of many people in South Florida, a new program is committed to giving those who abuse opioids a second shot at life.

"It completely sequesters your brain. It takes it away from you," said Dr. Patricia Ares-Romero, the Chief Medical Officer at Jackson's Behavioral Health Hospital in Northwest Miami.

Nearly two years ago, Ares-Romero took on a new program to help the growing number of people misusing and addicted to opioids.

"It is different than any other drug that we know. And I say that because what it does on the brain," she said.

That includes legally prescribed opiate pain killers, illegal opioids like heroin and synthetic fentanyl. And its effects do not discriminate.

"I trained at the VA. We would see people who had been addicted to heroin in the past, that had been clean and sober 10-15 years, had a hip replacement or a knee replacement, were placed on opioid medication, which was appropriate, but became addicted again," she said. "And so what we try to do with treatment is giving them that time they need to be able to get their lives back together."

This program has had success. There are grants helping pay for more medical staff to get people like Rosalind Lebron clean.

"My drug of choice was heroin. I've been using since I was 23," said Lebron.

Rosalind is 41 now. She hit rock bottom last year. A life-long drug addict. She switched to heroin years ago and most recently to synthetic fentanyl.
Her husband, also an addict, died. The courts permanently took away her four sons.

Rosalind's been to jail, she's lived on the streets, stolen, cheated and sold herself to score her next fix.

She even lost her right hand 10 years ago from shooting up.

"It's taken everything from me. It's like a downward spiral and I can't get out of it," said Lebron.

Released from jail last year, the Camillus house shelter took in Rosalind. As her drug demons returned, she realized help was literally one block away.

"I said, 'I need help getting off 'cause I can't do this by myself.' I didn't know what to do. I was trying," said Lebron. "Believe it or not, it's working really good. I'm doing things I thought I could not do."

Now the hospital is about to start a similar treatment program by partnering with the Miami Police department.

It's a jail alternative for people arrested for and hooked to the highly addictive opioids. Miami Police realized jail is not always the answer.

"This is a 12-month program where the individual that signs up for this program, has to take drug tests, has to go to classes, courses and has to stay within the
program," said Miami Police Commander Freddie Cruz.

Those who enter the program must follow a specific process before starting with treatment.

"A contract would be established. An actual legal binding contract where they are agreeing to these outpatient treatment services in lieu of being arrested," said Ares-Romero.

For those like Lebron, the program isn't just treatment, it's a second chance.

"I'm really happy and glad that Jackson's giving me a chance," said Lebron.

Lebron comes here twice a week for drug testing and therapy. She has been clean and sober since last November and intending to stay that way.

"I felt so guilty and so bad 'cause of all the things I've done in the past. And what I put myself through and my family. I would definitely change everything," said Lebron. "I wanna work. I wanna be part of society. God has been really gracious with me. Shown me love and mercy."

The partnership between Jackson's Behavioral Hospital and Miami Police is set to start next month.

If the user police arrest fails to comply with any part of the year-long treatment they agreed to, they're pulled out of the program and then faced with possible jail time.

By Donna Rapado

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