Allen County: Getting detox started in jail

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The Journal Gazette on October 23, 2016 by JAMIE DUFFY

County officials see promise in program that reduces relapses

Changes may be coming in the way Allen County treats its drug-addicted offenders.

For years, opioid abusers have been arrested, gone through a painful detox in the Allen County Jail and been released on probation, only to wind up back in jail for another detox bout.

Some offenders are channeled by the prosecutor’s office into the Allen County Drug Court overseen by Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull. The rest wind up in Criminal Court overseen by Allen Superior Court Judge Wendy Davis. The decision about which court the offenders end up in is up to the prosecutor’s office.

This perpetual cycle of capture, detox, release and re-arrest has led some health professionals, probate officers, criminal judges and law enforcement officials to propose a new approach that reduces recidivism, saves taxpayer money and helps the addicted get back on their feet.

Called Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, it usually starts 10 to 14 days from the first day of detox.

Fort Wayne proponents such as Davis and Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, want to see MAT start in the jail, which would require an assessment and most likely an injection of the drug Vivitrol before the addict leaves jail. Vivitrol, usually given monthly, reduces the desperate craving for drugs.

The drugs are paired with “wraparound services” that would help offenders find housing – away from so-called drug houses and heroin hotels – health insurance, food and counseling.

MAT also includes counseling and behavioral therapies, providing a whole-patient treatment, according to the Legal Action Center, a strong MAT proponent based in Washington, D.C., and New York City.

For opioid addicts, MAT uses medications that stabilize brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects of opioids, relieve physiological cravings and normalize body functions. Numerous studies show that MAT reduces drug use, disease rates among drug users and criminal activity among opioid-addicted people, according to a report from the Legal Action Center.

“Most of them (addicts) are desperate,” Davis says. “They want off drugs. They’ll beg me to get clean.”

Steve Stone, public information officer for the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, estimated that detoxing typically takes 12 hours. Davis, however, said addicts who show up at her court after two or three days of detox are still jerking and can’t sit straight.

“It’s hard to have a meaningful hearing when the defendant has only been detoxing 24 hours, two days. They’re still coming off the drug,” Davis said.

The Leadership Council for the Regional Mental Health Coalition, covering northeast Indiana, includes health, law enforcement, religious, governmental and nonprofit leaders. Since its first meeting in August, it has been encouraging Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux to adopt MAT for the Allen County jail.