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Podcast: The Doctor Behind Harm Reduction in Florida

How can a medical student transform an entire state’s approach to harm reduction? For Hansel Tookes, M.D., M.P.H., the motivation is simple.

Camera on Dr. Tookes and Dean Ford

“I think students should always pursue what they think is right and just in health care.”

On the latest episode of Inside U Miami Medicine, Dr. Tookes, clinical director of the IDEA Exchange at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, shares how he redefined public health in Florida by establishing the first needle exchange program in the state. It was a journey that started in high school when he shadowed his grandmother, a pioneering Black nurse in Miami, and led to years of testifying before the state legislature as a medical student, a resident and, finally, as a Miller School faculty member.

“I used to go with my grandmother and prepare food for the people who were unhoused on 17th street,” said Dr. Tookes. “That whole service to the community and helping those who are in need was instilled in me from a very young age.”

Dr. Tookes and Dean Ford
Hansel Tookes, M.D., M.P.H., and Dean Henri R. Ford

In 2016, when he was a second-year resident, the Legislature passed SB 242, also known as IDEA (Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act), giving Dr. Tookes the green light to establish the first legal needle exchange in the American South.

“All of a sudden, I had to implement a syringe exchange program. In Florida. In Miami. With no money,” he said. “And we had five years to show its efficacy.”

Dr. Tookes discusses how he and his team successfully opened a syringe services program in the heart of Miami, saving lives by swapping used syringes that can spread HIV and other infectious diseases for clean ones. Since opening its doors seven years ago, the program has expanded to include wound care, medication storage, vaccinations, and a program that provides the partial opioid agonist buprenorphine — “one of the tools toward ending the HIV epidemic,” he said.

Find the episode here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Tags: Dr. Hansel Tookes, harm reduction, HIV prevention, IDEA Exchange, IDEA Syringe Services Program, Inside U Miami Medicine