HEALTH

Medication-assisted treatment helps inmates overcome addiction

BY Raven Santana, Correspondent |

Sixty-year-old recovering addict Jose Lager says he’s done crack, dope, pills and alcohol on and off for 40 years. This will be the first time that he has ever been clean for six months. He is one of more than 100 inmates who participated in medication-ssisted treatment, or MAT.

“I thought I was going to be an addict my whole life. I thought I was going to die an addict. A lot of people died before me,” Lager said.

The program uses prescribed medication to block the effects of drug addiction.

“You just don’t have no cravings. Your cravings are gone, gone, gone,” Lager said.

In 2018, the Camden County Jail received a $200,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Corrections to expand its MAT program. Since then more than 100 inmates received treatment within a year of the program’s implementation.

“Those funds are designating for MAT training — contracts with community-based, post-released coordination service providers and purchase of consumable medication supplies, including Vivitrol, Suboxone and Narcan,” said Camden County Freeholder Jonathan Young.

Every person who goes to jail receives an on-site medical evaluation, including assessment for substance and alcohol abuse. Inmates who are identified as suffering from addiction may then agree to receive treatment while they serve their sentence.

“What makes Vivatrol a little bit more difficult to administer is that you need a seven to 10 day opioid-free window before somebody can actually get that shot or else you will put them in withdrawal,” said Dr. Lynda Bascelli, chief medical officer for Project HOPE.

Jail Warden Karen Taylor says the hope is that inmates won’t relapse once released. She says in order to make sure that they receive the most effective treatment, they would have to stay in jail for a few days.

“The challenge now with our bail reform system, in the past individuals were here for longer periods of time. Now, within 24 to 48 hours individuals are walking right out the door. If we began a detox protocol, usually it took eight days for the protocol and the program, by day four 75 percent of the individuals that were on the detox protocol were already out of our doors. That is a problem,” Taylor said.

Once inmates are released they are able to continue treatment for free at Project HOPE, a federally qualified health center that is working with the jail to help inmates transition.