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Sheriffs launch treatment pilot to aid opiate-afflicted in prisons

Peter J. Koutoujian, sheriffKoutoujian

Members of the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association has launched what it calls a landmark initiative providing expanded medication-assisted treatment options to those with opioid-use disorder at correctional facilities in seven counties.

The pilot program formally launched in Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk and Suffolk counties following a yearlong design and implementation process. 

As part of the pilot, individuals entering facilities in the seven counties on any of the three FDA-approved treatment regimens (buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone) will have the ability to continue their treatment regimen while incarcerated, unless determined otherwise by a qualified addiction specialist.  Sentenced inmates not on a verified regimen at the time of their commitment may also be evaluated for participation 30 days before their scheduled release.

“Arresting and incarcerating our way out of addiction is not – and has never been – an option,” said Middlesex Sheriff, and Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association President, Peter J. Koutoujian, who worked with legislators last year to craft the language for the pilot.  “Massachusetts sheriffs have been at the forefront of this crisis, implementing innovative and evidence-based initiatives aimed improving the health outcomes of justice-involved individuals with opioid use disorder.  This pilot is the thoughtful, comprehensive next step and one that is being watched by colleagues not just here in the Commonwealth, but across the country.”

Since its launch Sept. 1, nearly 100 individuals have had the treatment administered across the seven counties, a Sept. 6 news release said.

“While we need to continue our efforts to end the criminalization of substance use disorder and mental illness, we must do everything we can to meet the needs of those who are currently incarcerated,” said Sen. Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), who helped champion the 2018 comprehensive opioid treatment bill that established the pilot.  “The creation of this program is an important and ground-breaking step toward addressing substance use disorder within corrections so that people can get the medication they need and have the opportunity to recover. I want to thank my Senate colleagues, the Governor, the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association, and all of the stakeholders involved for their collaboration and commitment to making this program a reality.”

In addition to collaboration across the participating offices, sheriffs also worked closely with the Baker-Polito administration on the implementation of the pilot which is a direct result of Chapter 208 of the Acts of 2018 signed with bi-partisan support by Governor Baker last summer. Building on this success of the STEP Act, the bill expanded the use of medication-assisted treatment by requiring the Department of Public Health to implement a pilot program in houses of correction no later than Sept. 1.

“This pilot program serves as another tool for law enforcement and public health leaders to explore ways to address the opioid epidemic,” said Governor Charlie Baker.  “While we have seen some progress, our work is never done and our administration will continue collaborating with law enforcement and other stakeholders to combat this public health crisis across the Commonwealth.”

“Our administration is proud to have doubled investments in substance misuse and prevention across state agencies since 2015, and we continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to do all we can to address the opioid epidemic,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito in the release. “This new pilot program represents another mechanism to pursue options for helping individuals with a substance use disorder get on a path to recovery.”

“Addiction is a disease, and medication assisted treatment is one of the many pathways for individuals to achieve long-term recovery,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “When coupled with counseling, providing MAT in correctional facilities will ensure that individuals have equitable access to treatment. The Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association has been an important partner in our efforts to address the opioid epidemic and I am personally grateful for their leadership.”

“Medication for opioid use disorder works,” said Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH.  “This is one more way to assure people who need treatment receive it.”

In addition to administering medication while individuals are incarcerated, participating offices will also provide treatment staff and post-release continuity of care to assist those in their recovery, working in conjunction with DPH, MassHealth and other entities.

“Across the country, our jails have in many ways become locked treatment facilities for those with substance use disorders who have become caught up in the justice system,” said Franklin Sheriff, and Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association Vice President, Christopher Donelan.  “And sheriffs – especially those in Massachusetts – have responded to this reality.  This pilot is grounded in much of the work we have already done in Franklin and across the Commonwealth, and is a critical step in improving outcomes for those in our custody.”

“I’ve seen families devastated by substance abuse, particularly opioids” said Essex Sheriff Kevin Coppinger. “This program is ground-breaking.  It marks the beginning of a new role for jails in the fight against the opioid crisis. Jails today are the treatment centers for addiction as well as mental illness. This has totally changed the face of corrections.”

“Medication Assisted Treatment, along with the appropriate group and one on one counseling, is one more tool in our addiction recovery tool box we will provide inmates,” said Hampden Sheriff Nicholas Cocchi.  “We are working diligently on their recovery so they can go on to be successful as they return to our communities free from substance use addictions.”

“The Norfolk County House of Correction is pleased to implement the MAT Program,” said Norfolk Sheriff Jerry P. McDermott.  “It is important that we utilize all the resources and methods at our disposal to combat this drug epidemic which effects all of our communities, whether by addiction or crimes. This is a pioneering step in addressing these problems.”

“The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department initially sought participation in this pilot program because, if we truly want to combat the scourge of addiction we have to have all options on the table,” said Suffolk Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins.

As part of the press conference, officials also highlighted the recent award of a five-year, $10 million federal grant to Baystate Medical Center through the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network.  The grant is one of 12 nationwide that will support research on quality addiction treatment for opioids in criminal-justice settings.  Researchers from Baystate and UMass Amherst will work with all seven counties to examine and study the pilot.


This news announcement was published Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019.

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