For opiate-addicted offenders, getting out of jail does not mean their problems are over. Withdrawals can cause serious medical issues — and increase the likelihood of relapse and reincarceration.
Currently, Lewis County provides medication to inmates to help fight those withdrawals — as it’s required to by law. But a new partnership — at no cost to the county — will now allow individuals to continue treatment even after they’re released.
“This was a huge project for us at the jail,” said Corrections Chief Chris Sweet. “We’re just trying to break the chains of addiction. … It’s not only going to help them as they’re incarcerated, but hopefully it’s going to recover them once they get out of jail.”
The program is part of a one-year demonstration project — or pilot program — with the Cascade Pacific Action Alliance. The CPAA is giving $80,000 of its Medicaid funding to the county in partnership with NaphCare, the provider that conducts medical service at the jail.
When inmates are taken to the jail, they’re given a clinical opiate assessment; many have overdosed or are high when they’re brought in. The county currently treats those need it. Now, though, inmates who test at a certain score can be offered the chance to enter a voluntary program, run by NaphCare and a local substance abuse counseling facility, that continues after their release.
“Before this program, we were treating people,” Sweet said. “But once they get out of incarceration, we have really no involvement … We’re now able to offer this program to them as a voluntary program to give them that assistance.”
Officials are currently working to set the milestones and benchmarks that will determine the success of the demonstration project. The current funding allotment is only for one year, but Sweet said he’s counting on the project proving a good investment for years to come. The funding will also allow NaphCare to provide an extra nurse at the jail, a recognition of the seriousness of withdrawals.
“They will be prescribed medication within our facility to actually help them in the withdrawal process of coming down from the opiates, which we know is very dangerous,” Sweet said. “We have a lot of transport to our emergency room from our facility because we get people within our jail that actually have some serious health issues because they’re going through withdrawals. That money will also help pay for prescriptions to treat the individual and also an additional (nurse) thru NaphCare that has a special certification to actually counsel and be there to watch the inmate and show the inmate on how they can use medications.”
Lewis County commissioner Edna Fund, who makes a point to attend Drug Court graduations, noted that taking care of people once they’re released leads to better outcomes.
“If they have that transition, they have a better chance of being successful,” she said.