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Editorial: Jail methadone program worth exploring

Editorial: Jail methadone program worth exploring

The correlation between addiction and crime is plainly obvious. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that many of the people incarcerated at the Carroll County Detention Center are dealing with some sort of substance abuse, such as with heroin or other opioids.

Nationally, the same rings true. Alcohol and drugs are a factor in about 80 percent of crimes leading to jail time in the U.S.

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But as we struggle with how to properly deal with the heroin and opioid epidemic in the country and locally, one of the discussion points has to be law enforcement's role in treatment programs and, in particular, if providing so-called maintenance drugs to individuals with an active, untreated addiction in jail is a viable and worthwhile endeavor. Research is starting to indicate that it is.

"All the data say that if we can reduce addiction in the criminal justice population, we decrease recidivism, we decrease crime, we decrease reincarceration and we increase public safety," Dr. Marc Fishman, the director of Maryland Treatment Centers, told us. That should certainly be a goal of jails and law enforcement everywhere.

Evidence continues to mount that the use of drugs such as methadone and Suboxone while in jail leads to more positive outcomes when a person is released back into society. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment published a study that showed men arrested while in a methadone treatment program who were allowed to remain on methadone in jail were more likely to return to treatment upon release, and less likely to be arrested again, than men who were forced to detox while incarcerated. Other studies indicate that people with addiction kept on methadone or Suboxone are less likely to die from an overdose after being released, in part because detox decreases a person's tolerance for a substance.

Currently, the Carroll County Detention Center does not allow its inmates to use Suboxone or methadone, other than pregnant women already on methadone, but does offer a third option — an injection of Vivitrol, a long-acting opioid blocker that prevents people from getting high even if they relapse, for inmates nearing release. We think that's a great start.

Otherwise, inmates at the detention center are forced to detox, even if they are already on methadone or Suboxone when they are incarcerated.

Some jails in Maryland, like in Anne Arundel County, have partnered with the local health department to offer methadone to inmates and have had success. In the first year, back in 2012, of 170 inmates who participated, only 27 were sent back to jail. Typically, more than half of inmates were rearrested after release, so it seems to be effective.

Carroll County officials should take a closer look at that program and see whether it's something that could work here. There are certainly obstacles, not the least of which is finding funding. Those in charge would also need a change in the current mind-set that detox is preferable to using maintenance drugs, when the scientific evidence seems to run contrary to that.

Addiction is a long-term disease and must be viewed that way. We wouldn't deny someone with a heart condition their daily dose of medication in jail, so why do so to someone suffering from addiction, especially if the data show that person is less likely to commit a crime upon release?

We're not saying a methadone program in the county jail will be a panacea, but it's certainly worth a closer look if it means reducing recidivism and keeping people from using dangerous opioids, and dying, once they're out of jail.



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