Drug treatment in NJ's jails helps break cycle of crime and addiction
DOH, DOC commissioners hold roundtable on Medication-Assisted Treatment for inmates Monday, Aug. 6, 2018 in Pleasantville, N.J. Cherry Hill Courier-Post
The majority of New Jersey’s jail inmates have a substance-abuse problem, and offering them drug treatment while they are incarcerated can break the cycle of crime and addiction, two Murphy administration officials said Monday. They toured one of the nation’s first medication-assisted treatment programs for inmates in Atlantic County.
Inmates who re-enter society after drug treatment will be less likely to commit crimes in the future, less likely to return to drug use and more likely to survive, said Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal.
Recently released inmates are more than 100 times more likely to die from an opioid overdose than the general population, national studies have found.
"This is the population we need to focus on if we want to get the overdose death rate down in the state," Elnahal said. Last year, more than 2,200 people died from drug overdoses in New Jersey; this year, the state is on track to see at least 3,000 such deaths.
Elnahal talked with former inmates who started methadone treatment while in jail and toured the John Brooks Recovery Center in Pleasantville with the state's acting corrections commissioner, Marcus O. Hicks.
"Being in jail and coming out on methadone was probably the best thing I ever did," said Giovanni Cabrera, who had used drugs for eight years and had tried other medication-assisted treatments without success. "It definitely saved my life."
Another participant in the program, who gave her name only as Mary, said she had overdosed 14 times in less than two years as an active heroin user. She was in and out of jail, but had never tried methadone before the program was offered to her last year, she said.
"My life is really good right now," she said, her voice cracking. "I have not used since I got out on Nov. 3. That's really big for me. ... I owe it to the program."
The year-old program run by the recovery center at the Atlantic County Jail uses a mobile van to provide daily doses of methadone to inmates who are addicted to opioids and want to participate in rehabilitation. The jail is currently treating 36 inmates who have opioid addictions, and it has treated 345 in all since the program began last July.
Participants in the program have a lower rate of recidivism, or re-arrest, upon release than the general inmate population of the Atlantic County Jail — 44 percent compared with 65 to 68 percent — said Michael Santillo, executive director of the John Brooks Center.
No overdose deaths have been reported among those who went into methadone treatment in jail, center officials said.
And whereas three-quarters of inmates who enter jail with substance-abuse problems will relapse within three months, according to national statistics, the vast majority of participants in Atlantic County's jail program are linked to treatment and support upon their release, officials said.
“We have saved many lives,” said Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson, who worked with state officials, the recovery center and the jail's warden to launch the program. He presides over Atlantic County's drug court, which he has renamed the recovery court.
The state Corrections Department has given $1.7 million for medication-assisted treatment programs to 10 counties: Bergen, Passaic, Camden, Burlington, Hudson, Middlesex, Salem, Somerset, Union and Warren. The Atlantic County program is the only one to use methadone, which reduces the symptoms of drug withdrawal and blocks the euphoric effects of opiate use.
Other jails use Vivitrol. Given as an injection, it blocks the effect of withdrawal for 28 to 30 days, and is usually given to inmates a few days before their release, enabling them to seek treatment in the community.
When used in conjunction with counseling or 12-step programs, national studies show, medication-assisted treatment has a higher success rate than other forms of treatment.
“A striking 91 percent of individuals receiving the MAT [Medication Assisted Therapy] course complete” treatment successfully, compared with only 50 percent who receive other forms of treatment, Elnahal said.
The Department of Corrections also established a drug rehabilitation prison, Mid-State Correctional Center, with 700 beds, where all types of drug treatments are offered, Hicks said.
By investing in drug treatment at critical points in the criminal justice system, from arrest to jail, prison and re-entry, Elnahal said, the Murphy administration is trying to lower the death rate from drug overdoses and help a population that is currently underserved.
"The idea that you can punish you way out of this problem is not borne out by the evidence," he said.