Columbia County Jail inmates who struggle with addiction might soon get a going-away gift just before they’re released — their first injection of a drug designed to lessen their physical dependence on opioids.
On Monday, the public safety and executive committees of the Columbia County Board unanimously approved of a resolution to extend the county’s 3-year-old medication assisted recovery program to jail inmates.
Health and Human Services Director Dawn Woodard said this would entail giving inmates with opioid addiction their first injection of an anti-addiction drug such as Vivitrol in the jail, five days before the inmate’s scheduled release.
Also, a social worker dedicated to serving jail inmates would be either hired or contracted by the county to oversee the inmates’ cases, starting before the inmates’ release and continuing for up to two months afterward.
“We support it. We need it,” said Columbia County Sheriff-elect Roger Brandner to the public safety committee.
According to Woodard, the $111,400 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services runs from November through June, and is renewable for one year, starting July 1, as long as county officials can document that it’s fulfilling its intended purpose.
That purpose includes paying not only the social worker, but also funding the time it takes deputies to transport prisoners to Divine Savior Healthcare for their pre-injection lab work such as blood tests and urinalyses, the cost of the lab work and the cost of a doctor or nurse in the jail to administer the initial injections.
Initially, Woodard estimated about 30 clients would be served by the new program.
Woodard noted that many people end up jailed for property crimes committed to pay for addictive opioid drugs, including not only the illegal drug heroin, but also commonly prescribed opium-based painkillers.
In his report to the Public Safety Committee, Brandner noted it’s not unusual for incoming inmates to try to smuggle a supply of addictive drugs into the jail, to feed their addictions. The jail is a key source of referrals for the medication assisted treatment program, but currently the treatment can’t start until the inmate is released.
Stacy Davenport, Columbia County’s crisis/alcohol and other drug abuse program coordinator, said the practice now is for a caseworker to connect with the inmates shortly after release.
“You don’t think you can lose them between the lobby and the car,” she said, “but sometimes we do.”
According to Woodard, getting patients started with injected anti-addiction drugs before they get out of jail helps them get on the road to recovery faster. It also lessens the likelihood that an inmate with an addiction will overdose on drugs by taking them in the same dose as they had before incarceration upon release.
The drug injections are designed to quell the “high” that a person gets from ingesting opioids, she said. The injections usually are given every 28-30 days, maybe for the rest of the person’s life, she said.
When Executive Committee member JoAnn Wingers asked about the ratio of male to female inmates in need of the treatment, Davenport said it’s pretty close to even.
The program is not yet ready for implementation.
Both committees passed a resolution supporting it, but the full Columbia County Board will have the final say when it meets on Dec. 19.
Then, Woodard said, the County Board would need to approve hiring an in-house social worker to oversee the jail anti-addiction program. If that approval is not given, she said, then the county would contract with a social services agency.
County Board Chairman Vern Gove praised the effort.
“I’m very happy that health and human services and the jail are working together on this,” he said.