ATLANTIC CITY — The state will provide $8 million to county jails for medication-assisted opioid addiction treatment for those in jail and after release, similar to a pilot program in use in Atlantic County.
The statewide program was announced Friday at a Department of Human Services-sponsored summit on the opioid crisis at the Atlantic City Convention Center. Funding will be allocated in proportion to the size of the jail population.
Such services are already available in state prisons.
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The Atlantic County jail started providing medication-assisted treatment in July 2017, connecting former inmates to treatment via the John Brooks Recovery Center. That program has been funded with $343,713 from the state Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
It now uses a repurposed “Recovery on Wheels” mobile dispensing unit to provide medication-assisted treatment, and a number of unused rooms scattered around the jail to provide counseling services, Warden David Kelsey said.
Kelsey said the county is excited about the new funding from Human Services and the state Department of Corrections.
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“I believe additional funding will help address gaps in our existing program. We have applied for the funding and are awaiting final approval,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey said one plan is to create a fully functioning Opioid Treatment Services facility within the jail, including a patient dosing station, physical examination room, phlebotomy room and a counseling office.
The John Brooks Recovery Center has submitted an application to the Department of Health’s Office of Licensing to continue to be the designated treatment provider and will provide medical, counseling and other services, Kelsey said.
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Since its inception, the Atlantic County jail program has provided services and referred more than 750 individuals for treatment, he said.
“We currently maintain an ongoing census of 50 clients and will serve approximately 450 individuals annually,” Kelsey said.
Studies have found the risk for opioid overdose death greatly increases for people just released from incarceration, to as much as 129 times that of the general population, state Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said Friday during an editorial board meeting at The Press.
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They have detoxed and their tolerance has fallen, so if they take a dose that they could previously handle, it could kill them.
Johnson said the county jail program will not only provide treatment to those incarcerated, but also make sure inmates are connected with ongoing treatment once released from jail.
“(After) bail reform, we don’t have as long as we used to,” Johnson said, since many are released within 48 hours if not deemed a serious flight risk or threat to the community. “We have to act quickly.”
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“Our clients are vulnerable, their resistance is low and their drug cravings are high,” said former Gov. James E. McGreevey, chairman of the New Jersey Reentry Corp., a nonprofit that works to remove barriers to employment for citizens returning from incarceration. “Having MAT (medication-assisted treatment) will help persons survive and stabilize those first few weeks outside of jail.”
Brooks center staff last year said 78% to 90% of Atlantic County program inmates, upon release from jail, are linked directly to outpatient treatment programs, support services and wraparound programs to help them continue in recovery.
About 45% of program participants were re-arrested for drug-related and nondrug-related offenses after release, according to the Brooks center, which remains below the national rate of 60% to 80%, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
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Marcus O. Hicks, acting commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said the initiative would reduce recidivism, enhance public safety and help those most at risk of death.
About 80% of inmates in New Jersey with substance use disorders were under the influence when they committed their crime, state health and corrections officials have said.
“At the end of the day, we need to save lives. These medications save lives,” acting Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.