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Heroin addiction targeted by post-release program for inmates

Maryland is awarding $500,000 to Carroll and seven other counties for a program that will offer people being held in detention centers the opportunity, prior to being release, to be injected with a drug that blocks the effects of opioid drugs.

The goal is to break the cycle of substance abuse and recidivism.

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The Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention announced the funding Tuesday for Medication Assisted Treatment programs in Carroll, Anne Arundel, Calvert, Cecil, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Washington counties.

A similar program was piloted with success in Washington County and garnered the interest of Carroll County Detention Center Warden George Hardinger.

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"What they are seeing is encouraging and really, having this, it was really more just a funding issue — I would have loved to have seen it a year ago," Hardinger said. "It's one of the more encouraging things for those that have an extensive history of substance abuse."

The drug being used is naltrexone — also known by its brand name, Vivitrol — a non-narcotic, nonaddictive compound that is injected monthly. It is unlike methadone and suboxone, the narcotics used in opioid replacement therapies that require daily doses.

According to the Associated Press, however, Vivitrol can be expensive: about $1,000 a dose.

Vivitrol manufacturer Alkermes Inc. will donate the initial doses — given in the detention center just before an inmate's release — while the Carroll County Health Department will use the $54,272 it will receive from the state to cover the cost of follow-up injections.

"Our role here is really to ID those individuals that meet the criteria. … They have a history of substance abuse and are nearing release," Hardinger said. "It's truly a partnership between us and the local health department."

A strong partnership between the detention center, the health department and other community agencies is essential for addressing the problem of drug addiction and related crime, according to Dr. Henry Taylor, acting health officer at the Carroll County Health Department.

In the past, Taylor said, the Health Department had seen people who were just starting the recovery process relapse upon being released from the detention center because of an inability to access support and medication.

"The medicines are often very expensive, for which they need health insurance and support, and they have to be able to find a provider — it's just a long list of things they have to do while rejoining society," Taylor said. "What is significant about this program and funding is that people can get started on treatment while they are in the detention center and we are now able to seamlessly pick them up and continue care as they are released."

The program will be available to detention center inmates on a voluntary basis, according to Hardinger. People will not be required to participate as a strong desire to change is regarded as essential to a successful treatment and recovery process, he said.

"I think it would be a real mistake personally, to tell someone that in order to get work release that they have to be part of this program. That's coercive," he said. "This is for, one, someone with extensive history and, two, [someone who] wants to stop. If those two things are not there, the person wouldn't qualify, wouldn't be a good fit."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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