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How jail contributes to a growing addiction epidemic

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Correction officials say that in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 245 out of the 815 inmates in both jails are in some type of either drug or alcohol treatment program where they attend some type of therapy or other designated programs.

And while 75 percent of the jail population faces addiction issues, not all of them desire treatment as most of the programs are voluntary.

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“They are not beating down the doors to get to this,” said Mike Palumbo, Bucks County Correctional Facility’s drug and alcohol specialist supervisor says.

While the waiting list for the program barely extends 10 names, the demand is starting to grow — especially for those who have never been in a recovery program.

“Jails often pick up what society doesn’t offer, when society doesn’t offer treatment and then jails get people who aren’t treated,” he said. “We could just give them three meals and keep them safe. But that is how we get a repeat customer. We are trying to find a way to intervene and put in a stopgap.”

Inmates, who are in addition to the programs, medically cleared and struggle with an opioid addiction are offered Vivitrol.

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Vivitrol is a drug that blocks the effects of alcohol and opioids.

Vivitrol Manufacturer Alkermes gives out shots for free — the county corrections department then works to have participants stay on the treatment for 11 months after they are released.

They do this by helping them enroll in Medicaid so they can afford the shots — which go for about $1,000 each.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and Department of Human Services just announced a plan to streamline the process for applying for medical assistance for inmates being released from state facilities.



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According to the DOC, close to 10 percent of the 20,000 inmates released from state facilities each year qualify for medical assistance due to either chronic medical or mental health diagnoses or substance use disorders.

But the process of applying “has proven both labor intensive and time consuming.”

“It is in the community’s best interest to have those that leave succeed,” John Wetzel, Corrections Secretary said. “Ensuring they have access to medical and mental health benefits is essential to a successful transition back to the community.”

Supervisor of the Bucks County’s Drug and Alcohol Treatment Section, Patricia Davis said Vivitrol is just one resource and how medications should be combined with behavioral and therapeutic counseling.

“If it (the program) can help change their thinking, it can change their behavior,” she said.

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Providing treatment in jail has been found to reduce recidivism rates (the tendency for an offender to re-offend) but Ken Martz, special projects consultant for Gaudenzia Inc. who has worked with prisons in Maryland and Pennslyvania says:

“Study after study, decade after decade, the No. 1 predictor of outcome is length of treatment,” shared Martz.

“Treatment occurs in the context of a relationship,” he said. “Where I begin to know that I can trust you and can begin to share the secrets of my shame and trauma, my abuse history. That I’m not going to do on day one.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends at least 90 days for residential or outpatient treatment, and longer courses for better outcomes.

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