MADISON, Wis. — The Dane County Jail announced a new program Tuesday meant to help its residents fight opioid addiction.
The Medication Assistance Treatment program will allow the jail’s nurses to administer the prescription drug Subutex to those who were already being treated with the medication before they entered the jail.
“A large number of people entering our jail system are suffering from various forms of addiction,” Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said in a statement. “The ability to offer this medication program and help maintain someone’s sobriety is a huge step in reducing recidivism and improving public safety.”
Barrett said the program could expand beyond continuing care in the future. In the past, the jail has not been able to continue Subutex treatments inside the jail, leading to an interruption in recovery — and the possibility that those suffering from addiction commit more crimes in the future to support it.
“While addiction itself is not an actual crime, the criminal activity involved with supporting that addiction is where the crimes typically occur,” Barrett said during a press conference Tuesday.
If the county can help treat the addiction, it could lead to a reduction in crime by reducing the chances those people get arrested again.
“Our ultimate goal is to reduce recidivism,” Barrett said. “When we reduce recidivism, we reduce the jail population. By reducing the jail population, we decrease the crime rates. By reducing the crime rates, we increase public safety and we reduce criminal justice budgets.”
Dr. Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar from UW-Madison says the drug has shown to be able to reduce illegal drug use and risk of death by as much as 50 percent.
“When someone with opioid addiction who is on medication is incarcerated, while they’re there, that medication is stopped,” Dr. Salisbury-Afshar said, referring to jails that do not use a Medication-Assisted Treatment program. “We know from research that this puts people at risk for multiple things: it reduces the chance that they re-enter treatment when they leave. It also increases their risk for resuming use and it increases risk for overdose death.”
Those who stop treatment while behind bars are 800 percent more likely to die from an overdose after they are released due to their tolerance being reduced, Dr. Salisbury-Afshar said.
“This is a really important first step and I commend Sheriff Barrett and the Dane County Jail for committing to continued efforts to continue to expand access to care beyond continuation of care, but eventually to be able to screen everyone coming in and even be able to initiate care and link people to treatment in the community,” Dr. Salisbury-Afshar said. “This is the right thing to do.”