Denver, CO

Denver jails expand medication-assisted addiction treatment

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Denver jails will expand their medication-assisted treatment program for inmates battling addiction.

The City Council accepted a $1,054,387 grant Monday from the Caring for Denver Foundation. The money will continue to pay for three existing case management positions as well as create two new positions at the jails to coordinate medication-assisted treatment.

“This program broadens the scope of case management services available to individuals incarcerated in Denver Sheriff’s Department facilities,” Dr. Nikki Johnson, chief of mental health services for the jail, wrote in a memo to City Council. “They also provide individualized support based on the client’s expressed needs and challenges, including referrals to jail-based classes (such as substance misuse classes, GED tutoring, and anger management classes), facilitating journal-based work on topics identified together with the client, facilitating identification of and referral to community-based resources, assisting clients with applications and paperwork needed to access community-based resources, scheduling community-based intake appointments, and developing reentry plans with participating clients.”

Treating opioid and alcohol abuse

Medication-assisted treatments include methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, and vivitrol. These medications treat opioid and alcohol abuse by reducing cravings. Inmates receiving the medication also get behavioral therapy.

The Denver Sheriff’s Department also will:

· Purchase workbooks to supplement medication-assisted treatment.

· Support jail-based behavioral health services data tracking requirements.

· Provide recovery support services including clothes, shoes, transportation, emergency housing/motel vouchers and basic hygiene supplies.

· Provide culturally competent services.

· Make reasonable accommodations to meet the needs of individuals who are physically challenged, deaf or hearing impaired, or blind.

Denver Health will provide services

The City Council approved Monday an almost $300,000 contract with Denver Health to provide the services. The money will pay for the development of medication-assisted treatment housing units where individuals on medication-assisted treatment maintenance or induction can live in the same space. Denver Health also will distribute harm-reduction release bags and create programming. Additional duties will include meeting with community providers and certifying the jail to induct methadone. Currently, the jail may only maintain methadone and induct naltrexone, suboxone and vivitrol.

The Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention Act will require Denver Sheriff’s Department to implement and offer screening, treatment, and continuity of care to all incarcerated individuals with a substance use disorder by July 1, 2023. "These efforts will require a significant amount of work to coordinate, and their continuation and/or success is dependent on Denver Sheriff’s Department staffing,” Johnson wrote.

Inmates prone to overdose upon release

According to Johnson, inmates are at increased risk of overdose, especially two weeks after release. “We are in the midst of a nationwide opioid crisis and want to do everything we can to address this crisis,” Johnson wrote. “Individuals releasing from jail and prison are at an extremely high risk of overdose upon release, specifically two weeks upon release, ranging from 40 to 129 times more likely to die from overdose than the general public. Jail-based connections to medication-assisted treatment, along with the provision of Narcan at release help reduce the incidence of overdose and help save the lives of individuals releasing from Denver Sherriff’s Department custody.”

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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