South Florida Addiction History

Miami’s Drug and Drug Treatment History: Part 2

by Shelby Wall

By David Greenberg, South Miami Recovery Social Media and Blog Writer | South Florida

This is the second in a series of articles about Miami’s long history with drugs and drug treatment.


Attacking the South Florida Drug Crisis

We left things at the end of part 1 of this series with Miami facing a drug crisis. A combination of geography, drug cartels and lifestyle had made South Florida a hotbed of drugs and illegal activity. The result was that the greater Miami area ended up with a disproportionate share of individuals abusing drugs and ultimately facing addiction.

As a result, in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the community began to buzz about how to deal with the worsening issue. The answers came from a variety of sources, including law enforcement, the legal system and the medical field.

South Florida Addresses Addiction Epidemic

While national efforts began to be put in motion to address this growing epidemic, no part of the country stepped up to deal with the issue as effectively as Miami. Several people and organizations, even as far back as the 1960s, recognized the crisis and quickly took action to deal with it.

Among the first was Dr. Ben Sheppard, a local pediatrician and psychiatrist, who might be best known for his service as chairman of the Miami Dade School Board in the 1970s. Prior to this, he started the area’s first methadone clinic in the 1960s: St. Luke’s Methadone Drug Treatment Center.

Camillus House was founded by Brother Mathias Barrett around the same time. Known mostly for its ministry and healthcare to the homeless and hungry, Camillus House held a place in Miami’s fight against drug abuse and addiction. As it grew, Barrett’s center transformed a crack cocaine den into its first transitional housing facility. Camillus House remained on the forefront of the fight against drug abuse and addiction for decades. It was 1984 when Brother Harry Somerville began Camillus’ first substance abuse and treatment program that would eventually become the Camillus House Institute for Social and Personal Advancement.

A number of treatment centers opened over the years in Miami. Some remain today. Each center served as a path to healing for those in need of addiction treatment services.

Claire MaDan began her journey of recovery in 1957 and dedicated her life to carry the message into jails and institutions. She counseled alcoholics and addicts for more than 30 years in Miami Springs at the MaDan Center. The MaDan Act was named after Claire MaDan and was the legal instrument used for involuntary committal and examination of individuals impaired by substances.

South Florida Treatment Centers and Hospitals Join the Battle

Concept House, based in what is now the design district, began helping addicts in 1970, and it  was the first of these facilities to bring Narcotics Anonymous in as part of the treatment plan.

It was one of the first of many residential and outpatient facilities, and then followed by Village South, A Better Way, Transitions and many others.

As was the case with most of these facilities, A Better Way, a 12-step recovery house, was started in 1983 by a group of 18 recovering individuals including Dan Carzoli. Originally located in a little house on NE 17 th Street, A Better Way saw many homes, the last of which is the current location on NW 28th St. And as far as the leadership, Dan Carzoli was followed by Beth Lang in 1991. Current CEO is Michael Festinger. One person whose journey went from client in 1985 to current Residential Program Director is Danny T., a mainstay at Better Way.

Other local programs, like Transitions and Village South, also offered opportunities for addicts to get help and change their lives.

Two other long term treatment centers became an integral part of recovery in Miami, yet neither was even close to the community. More than 1,200 miles away in Blairstown, N.J., Alina Lodge opened in 1957. But it was in the 1970s and 1980s, under the direction of Geraldine Delaney, that it began playing a vital role in the lives of many recovering addicts in Miami. The saying goes Alina Lodge was for those addicts “reluctant to recover.”

Another treatment facility that had great influence in South Florida was more than 900 miles away in Jackson, Miss. The COPAC Rehab Center was providing services similar to Alina Lodge to recovering addicts from Miami. COPAC started as a treatment facility specifically for physicians and other professionals.

The Impact of Dr. Delores Morgan

If there was one person who can be looked upon as a modern community visionary for addiction treatment in Miami, it would have to be Dr. Delores Morgan. She started the South Miami Hospital Alcohol Treatment Program in 1976 with 20 patients. Within a few years it became the Addiction Treatment Program. It was the first hospital based program in South Florida and one of only a handful across the country. She later replicated these efforts at Mount Sinai Hospital on Miami Beach.

What made Dr. Morgan unique were her treatment philosophy and her passion to help every addict she came across. Dr. Morgan’s intensity made her both loved and feared, two emotions which addicts in treatment would respond to.

She recognized the value of both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous in the long-term recovery of addicts. As a result, she incorporated 12-step programming in a unique way. Every Friday evening, her patients were transported to an AA or NA meeting in the community. The choice of which session to attend belonged to the patient, but they had to go. In the mid- and late-1980s, with the meetings usually around 8 p.m., van drivers were encouraged to hurry back to the hospital because Miami Vice was on television at 10 pm.

Dr. Morgan also recognized that for many patients, a 28-day hospital program was not going to be enough. She worked with the local long-term facilities, as well as Alina Lodge and COPAC, to provide ongoing treatment for those who needed it.

The First-Ever Drug Court

While all this was going on in the treatment field, the court system was not sitting idly by. Miami took a step in 1989 that would result in a national model for treatment. The Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida was the first judicial circuit in the country to implement a drug court. Started by Judge Stanley Goldstein, the drug court was designed to provide a diversion and treatment program for drug offenders in the court system. The South Florida program’s goals were and remain to identify appropriate candidates, offer an alternative to normal prosecution and incarceration and rehabilitation. Today, there are drug courts in more than 2,000 communities across the country.

In our next article, we will focus even closer to home – looking at the more-than-40-year history of recovery in South Dade that started with South Miami Hospital.


South Miami Recovery is a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center located in South Florida. To learn more about our unique approach to recovery, call 305-661-0055 today. 

David Greenberg is a recovering addict celebrating 34 years of recovery. He got his start in recovery at Mount Sinai Hospital and Concept House and remains active following a 12-step lifestyle.