The Dane County Sheriff announced an opioid treatment program today. The goal is to continue residents’ addiction treatment if they need treatment while incarcerated.
The new program expands how the Dane County jail can help those in addiction treatment. The jail already administers medication to help people with opioid addictions recover, but it can’t be used if a patient has recently used opioids.
The new program makes an additional drug called Subutex also available to the jail . And this drug can be administered 24 hours after taking opioids.
Here is Sheriff Kalvin Barrett explaining how the medication can help, at a press conference this afternoon at the Public Safety Building.
“Our ultimate goal is to continue the medications to help with their addictions so they’re not stopping cold-turkey and then having them restart back up once they are released. This is a small step in the right direction but we all know that if we take these small criminal justice reform steps, in the right direction, we will eventually get to where we want to be in criminal justice reform here in Dane county.”
Dr. Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar, an expert in Addiction Medicine at U-W-Madison, also spoke at the press conference.
“In the case of opioid addiction or opioid use disorder we know that medications like buprenorphine, trade name is Subutex that was mentioned earlier, have been shown to increase retention in treatment, reduce illegal drug use, reduce risk of death by as much as 50%, and reduce the risk of recidivism, or reduce the risk that someone will commit another crime.”
Barrett says that the program has already treated 3 people this month.
Today’s announcement is timely. It comes just one day after a decision to dismiss a federal lawsuit against Dane County for its failure to prevent an overdose death in the jail in 2016. It argued that the death of Shannon Payne, who overdosed on heroin allegedly smuggled into the jail, was unconstitutional and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
The Wisconsin State Journal reports that U.S. District Judge William Conley dismissed the case on e the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to show that Payne’s constitutional rights were violated.
I asked Sheriff Barrett about the timing of the press conference, and whether he had the ruling in mind in announcing the program.
“No, absolutely not. This was the plan that was just coming. We were gonna do this at – it was just a random time that we selected. We did not know of the ruling or what that was gonna look like going forward.”
Sheriff Barrett also summed up exactly what care the jail can now provide.
“If they’re receiving the care on the outside then we will continue that care moving forward. If they’re not receiving that care, we’re not in the position with our configuration, our facilities, our staffing, to really identify and prescribe that medication.”
The sheriff’s plan is to be able to prescribe addiction medication in the future, without the resident being in treatment before they are incarcerated. Currently, the jail’s only way to isolate and monitor residents, required for those future prescriptions, would be to put them in solitary confinement.
“That’s not the place for someone who is going through a medical emergency, and that’s what we see this as.”
The Sheriff says the new medication program today fits into the Sheriff’s plan for the jail’s future as the jail consolidation project continues.