Pro­gram aims to wean in­mates from drugs

Of­fi­cials: New ini­tia­tive al­ready pay­ing div­i­dends

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Christo­pher N. Osher The Den­ver Post

Tears of re­lief re­cently ran down one par­tic­i­pant’s face as he en­tered a new pro­gram aimed at get­ting trou­bled drug of­fend­ers into treat­ment.

The new ini­tia­tive is less than two months old, but al­ready it is pay­ing div­i­dends, ac­cord­ing to those run­ning it.

Of the seven peo­ple who started the Med­i­ca­tion As­sisted Treat­ment In­duc­tion Pro­gram for Den­ver pro­ba­tion­ers, four re­main en­rolled. The pro­gram aims to iden­tify trou­bled pro­ba­tion­ers who aren’t com­ply­ing with re­quire­ments that they re­main drug free. It gives them the op­tion of re­ceiv­ing methadone treat­ment while in jail. Then they are handed off to an out­pa­tient treat­ment pro­gram upon their re­lease from cus­tody.

“We’re giv­ing them a warm hand-off from the jail to a methadone clinic, and giv­ing them wrap­around ser­vices and let­ting them know we’re here to sup­port them and re­move the roadblocks so they can be suc­cess­ful,” said Den­ver pro­ba­tion su­per­vi­sor Scott Pren­der­gast.

Get­ting the pro­gram up and run­ning was a two-year process that in­volved col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Den­ver Sher­iff De­part­ment, Den­ver Hu­man Ser­vices, Den­ver Health, Den­ver Adult Pro­ba­tion, Den­ver District Court and the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado. The in­spi­ra­tion for the pro­gram came from a crim­i­nal jus­tice fo­rum Pren­der­gast and Den­ver District Court Chief Judge Michael Martinez at­tended that in­cluded a pre­sen­ta­tion on a treat­ment pro­gram for opi­oid-ad­dicted in­mates at Rik­ers Is­land jail in New York City.

Ev­ery Wed­nes­day, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice, the Den­ver district at­tor­ney’s of­fice, a drug court mag­is­trate, a pro­ba­tion of­fi­cial, a drug court co­or­di­na­tor and a treat­ment pro­fes­sional meet to go over pro­ba­tion cases that would make a good fit for treat­ment. So far, one in­di­vid­ual a week has qual­i­fied.

These are cases in which the in­di­vid­ual would have been in dan­ger of a pro­ba­tion re­vo­ca­tion, which could have re­sulted in an 18-month jail sen­tence, or a

re­lease back to the streets.

In­stead, those se­lected for the pro­gram get a short-term jail stint. Par­tic­i­pants are sent to the Cor­rec­tional Care Med­i­cal Fa­cil­ity, a se­cure in­pa­tient clinic in­side Den­ver Health Med­i­cal Cen­ter, where they are as­sessed and, if ap­pro­pri­ate, given a dose of methadone. They are re­turned to Den­ver’s Van Cise-Si­monet De­ten­tion Cen­ter for the week­end and re­ceive two other doses.

Then, upon re­lease from the jail, they are driven, ac­com­pa­nied by a co­or­di­na­tor, to the of­fices of Ad­dic­tion Re­search and Treat­ment Ser­vices, a clin­i­cal pro­gram of CU’s An­schutz Med­i­cal Cam­pus, where they are en­rolled in an out­pa­tient methadone treat­ment pro­gram.

Their cases are mon­i­tored by a pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer and a mag­is­trate, who has the ham­mer of re­vok­ing their pro­ba­tion and send­ing them to jail for non­com­pli­ance, Pren­der­gast said. The pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer also works on find­ing hous­ing, men­tal health ser­vices, job as­sis­tance and other ser­vices the par­tic­i­pant may need to re­main free of drugs.

For now, one per­son a week is be­ing en­rolled, but there are hopes for more ca­pac­ity as the pro­gram con­tin­ues to de­velop, Pren­der­gast said.

The pro­gram is some­what of a de­par­ture for a jail. His­tor­i­cally, jails through­out the na­tion have been re­luc­tant to of­fer methadone treat­ment, in part be­cause there is a fear it will switch an ad­dict to a new de­pen­dence and also be­cause of fears methadone could be­come valu­able con­tra­band. But the need for methadone is em­braced at the Den­ver jail sys­tem, where Den­ver Sher­iff Pa­trick Fir­man be­lieves it will pre­pare some for suc­cess.

“This pro­gram is unique be­cause it starts drug users on methadone while they are in the care and cus­tody of the Sher­iff De­part­ment, mean­ing they have a greater chance of suc­cess­fully treat­ing their ad­dic­tion and get­ting off heroin,” Fir­man said in a pre­pared state­ment.

An­gela Bon­aguidi, di­rec­tor of adult out­pa­tient ser­vices at CU’s Ad­dic­tion Re­search and Treat­ment Ser­vices, said it’s cru­cial to get those leav­ing the jail patched into out­pa­tient ser­vices quickly. One land­mark study found that those re­leased from in­car­cer­a­tion have nearly 13 times the nor­mal risk of death in the first two weeks of their re­lease, she said.

She added that stud­ies show those who em­bark on methadone treat­ment have a greater chance of de­feat­ing their ad­dic­tions.

“Our first can­di­date in the pro­gram pre­sented to the clinic with tears of hap­pi­ness at be­ing given an op­por­tu­nity,” Bon­aguidi said. “Those par­tic­i­pat­ing aren’t just be­ing re­leased. They are be­ing given op­por­tu­nity to see if med­i­ca­tion is the right course for them.”

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