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Howard County's Department of Corrections will now offer substance abuse intervention and treatment services to low-level offenders, County Executive Allan Kittleman announced Tuesday.

The Department of Corrections will offer the services, including drug screenings, advice to at-risk individuals and treatment referrals, to inmates with sentences less than six months or those awaiting trial. The new program is possible thanks to a nearly $86,000 one-year grant from Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore, a nonprofit that provides services for prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery for those dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues.

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Called a screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment program, or SBIRT, it will be the first of its kind in a detention center in the state, said Jack Kavanagh, director of the Department of Corrections.

As Maryland continues to grapple with its battle against opioid abuse, Howard County is taking steps towards opening its first residential detox center, something officials say is desperately needed and overdue.

Kavanagh said he is not sure how many people the program will reach because the number of people that come through the Department of Corrections is fluid, and some people are released on bail within a few days and leave jail before receiving treatment. He said the program will be a "work in progress," and that officials will learn and adjust aspects as needed.

If the program is as successful as officials hope, Kavanagh said they plan to request funding from the county council to continue it beyond next year.

Much of the funding is being put toward hiring a coordinator to run the new program, Kavanagh said. Dwayne Sumpter, a former addictions counselor, has been hired as coordinator, with duties such as offering individual and group counseling and helping determine the best next course of treatment for people, Kavanagh said.

The program is slated to be rolled out in September, and will target people who test positive during drug screenings upon entering a correctional facility, which is about half of those tested, Kavanagh said.

Kavanagh said the program is expected to help fill a gap in services offered by the county. Howard currently focuses its efforts on treatment for those serving longer sentences, and the grant will allow county officials to target lower-level offenders as well as those with short terms or who are awaiting trial.

This is the county's latest attempt to combat expanding opioid abuse. In the first six months of this year, 26 people suffered opioid-related deaths in the county, and there were 91 reported non-fatal opioid-related overdoses, according to data from the Howard County Police Department.

Robert Gavin, as a Howard High School student, saw three options for his life. Either he was going to jail, he was going to kill himself, or the opioids were going to kill him.

The Howard County Department of Corrections operates a detention center in Jessup that houses pretrial offenders and inmates sentenced up to 18 months, and has an operating capacity of 398 individuals. The department also operates a central booking facility that is responsible for processing incoming inmates prior to an initial hearing.

"If we can offer treatment options even among lower-level offenders, we might be able to prevent them from coming back through the system for a longer stay," Kittleman said in a statement.



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