It’s a narrative that’s all too familiar across the country: Heroin usage is surging and states are scrambling to find new ways to effectively help those suffering from addiction.
Maryland is the latest to find itself in that boat. A growing number of correctional facilities in the Baltimore area are hoping that treating addicted inmates with medication could be the life preserver the addicts so desperately need.
Help Addicted Inmates
Can inmate medication help save lives after release?
As the entire state of Maryland struggles with this newfound heroin epidemic, it is becoming apparent that punitive measures alone will not stop it. Many of the people who find themselves behind bars on heroin-related charges passed the point of “choosing” to use the drug long ago. Most are afflicted with the very real disease of addiction. In order to help those people, and ultimately achieve well-being in the state as a whole, the efforts need to go beyond punishing them for their actions; they need to strive to remedy the root cause.
Many jails and prisons limit their efforts to counseling and support groups. But numerous correctional facilities in the Baltimore area, including those in Anne Arundel, Harford and Washington counties, among others, are starting to treat addicted inmates with drugs such as Vivitrol and methadone. Vivitrol is an injectable, non-opioid medication designed to help prevent relapse by blocking the effects of alcohol and heroin. Opioid-based methadone works in a slightly different manner, easing withdrawal symptoms of those who have recently cut off use of the drug completely.
Officials hope the use of these medications might help combat the enormous risk of relapse and overdose that drug-addicted inmates face after they are released from prison. According to The Baltimore Sun, data shows the risk of overdosing within the first week of release is eight times higher than it is a mere three months later. This spike stems largely from the fact that without access to the drug behind bars, tolerance deteriorates. If addicts relapse after being released, the amount they were previously used to using may very well be a fatal dose.
Success still depends on much more than medication
The susceptibility to early post-release overdoses brings the issue full-circle, and revitalizes the importance of truly trying to rehabilitate the person who is suffering rather than simply giving them a substance to nullify the effects of a drug. Baltimore officials understand the importance of helping these inmates achieve real recovery, and acknowledge that while medication may play a role in increasing the odds of success, it is not a standalone solution.
“The goal is to help addicts stay clean when they get out of jail so they can find treatment for their substance abuse problem,” said Dr. Julie Stanchiff, a psychiatrist with the Harford County Health Department, who is working with the Baltimore City Detention Center to analyze how hundreds of incarcerated addicts respond to methadone treatment.
Owen McEvoy, spokesman for Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh, echoed Stanchiff’s sentiment that treatment programs are critical. “You have to attack it from every angle, and one of those angles is treatment,” McEvoy said. “The detention center provides us a unique opportunity to give people the help they need.”
Although the state of Maryland is the latest to recognize a major drug abuse problem and explore nontraditional ways to address it, it is hardly the only place where people are suffering from substance abuse.
Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and is difficult to overcome, but regardless of your circumstances, it is never too late to start on the road to recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, call The Watershed today at 1-800-861-1768.Tags: jail