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Program Aims to Stop Overdoses

Tragedy led Joy Fishman to support groundbreaking work
Joy Fishman

Joy Fishman


oy Fishman’s late husband, Jack Fishman, invented naloxone, a lifesaving drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Tragically, the drug was not widely available in 2003, when Fishman’s 32-year-old son, Jonathan, died from a heroin overdose. To honor Jonathan’s legacy, and that of her husband, Fishman spends her time advocating for and supporting vulnerable communities with substance use disorders.

“No mother should experience my pain,” said Fishman. “I want to ensure all people who use substances can access the care they need to prevent overdoses and save lives.”

Fishman is an avid supporter of the work of Hansel E. Tookes III, M.P.H. ’09, M.D. ’14, an associate professor at the Miller School. As a medical student, Dr. Tookes advocated for the first legal syringe exchange program in Florida, which opened in 2016. That program, the University of Miami IDEA (Infectious Disease Elimination Act) Exchange, provides new syringes in exchange for used ones and offers harm reduction services to reduce the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases in Miami-Dade County. The IDEA Exchange also distributes naloxone to participants and their families.

Fishman advocates nationally to raise funds and awareness for the IDEA Exchange, and is working to make naloxone more readily available. (In March, the Food and Drug Administration approved an over-the counter naloxone nasal spray.) With her involvement, the IDEA Exchange has helped reduce the number of overdose deaths and new HIV cases in Miami-Dade County.

“This vulnerable population desperately needs options and places to turn for help,” said Fishman, who is known as Mama Joy by IDEA program staff and participants. “Every life is worth saving.”

With Fishman’s involvement, the IDEA Exchange has helped reduce the number of overdose deaths and new HIV cases in Miami-Dade County, which has the highest number of new cases nationwide.“Joy has given selflessly to IDEA in memory of Jonathan and the other people we have lost too soon,” said Dr. Tookes, medical director of the IDEA Exchange. “She is kind, generous, and an integral founding member of our program.”

Meet the people behind the IDEA Exchange here.