DOC expanding methadone programs, including at York

In the coming weeks, years of behind-the-scenes work will pay off as the state Department of Correction expands its methadone programs in a major way.

In general, the programs allow offenders who already were on methadone — an opioid medication that helps reduce the symptoms of withdrawal — to continue methadone treatment throughout their stay in a corrections facility.

Right now, the DOC operates such programs at four facilities: the correctional centers in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford, and York Correctional Institution in Niantic.

York’s program has existed for years but generally is limited to pregnant women and/or women who are expected to have short stays in the jail portion of the facility. According to DOC Director of Health Services Dr. Kathleen Maurer, about 25 women are participating at any given time.

New Haven’s program began in October 2013, and Bridgeport’s in February 2015. About 75 men participate between the two facilities.

The initiative at Hartford just launched a few weeks ago and is part of the wave of new DOC activity in the arena. So far, Maurer said, just shy of 10 patients have signed on. She expects that number will grow.

Soon, the DOC also will be launching a methadone program at Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers. It is also about to expand the program at York.

If the results of a Yale School of Medicine study published last month are any indication, the expansions are good news. According to the peer-reviewed study, which focused on the New Haven program, inmates who got methadone treatment received fewer disciplinary tickets and were more likely to continue treatment upon release. Additionally, they were five times less likely than their peers to be rearrested for a felony and 10 times less likely to be charged with a drug-related crime after their release.

The DOC partners with different providers for each program. In Bridgeport, for example, Recovery Network of Programs is the partner, which means an RNP employee comes into the prison each day with the methadone and stays in the faciliy to ensure it is properly administered.

According to Maurer, the community providers generally foot about 75 percent of the cost, while the DOC handles the other 25 percent. The costs of the programs vary based on the number of participants.

Maurer didn’t know the numbers off the top of her head, but in 2016, RNP Chief Executive Officer John Hamilton said work in the Bridgeport facility was costing his agency about $120,000 annually. That would put the DOC’s portion at close to $40,000. It costs about $50,000 to keep a single inmate in a DOC facility for a year.

Offenders with lengthy sentences typically are not accepted into the program, which includes urine testing and counseling. Otherwise, the primary limitation is space. Among those who are incarcerated in Connecticut, an estimated 75 to 85 percent have substance use disorders, according to Maurer.

“What we know is that, of the 2016 overdose deaths, 52 percent had come out of corrections at some time,” Maurer said. “The literature shows that in the first few weeks after release, there is a very high risk for overdose and overdose death.”

“So we know that we have a serious problem … and we know it’s our job to provide the community standard of care for our patients,” she continued. “Part of the community standard of care for substance use disorders is providing medication for addiction treatment.”

Hartford

In Hartford, the DOC has teamed up with Community Health Resources for its new methadone program, which began operating right around the start of the month.

Maurer said starting methadone services there was “very important” to the DOC.

“If you look at the numbers of people coming into Hartford who require medical withdrawal — or detox, as it’s called — it’s about, every day, three to 10 people who come in on opioids,” she said.

Once the program becomes more established, Maurer said the DOC wants to start methadone induction at the center, too. With an induction program, offenders could be started on methadone prior to leaving the center, ideally lessening their likelihood to overdose post-release.

York

According to Maurer, the state Department of Public Health recently visited York to determine whether to license an expanded methadone program there.

The visit went well, Maurer said, in part because the DOC worked with the DPH for about six months to prepare. Maurer expects the program will get licensed within the next couple of weeks.

Maurer couldn’t say how many more women will be treated — that depends on the need, she said. But with data showing a sharp increase in the number of women dying of drug overdoses in Connecticut, the need is sure to be high.

Maurer said one day she hopes to also introduce Vivitrol, or naltrexone, at York. The drug blocks opioid receptors in the brain for one month at a time and also can be used to treat alcohol dependence.

Osborn

A licensing visit for Osborn’s new program is set to take place within a week or two, according to Maurer. The facility, which is one of the state’s larger facilities in terms of inmates, already has an inpatient addiction services unit and works specifically with people who struggle to stay out of prison because of substance use.

Once the program is up and running, Maurer said she believes some methadone-qualifying inmates will be moved from Bridgeport and New Haven to Osborn to serve out the remainder of their sentences. That will free up space in the former two facilities, where the need for methadone is high.

Maurer said the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services provided some money to help the DOC launch the Osborn project. According to Maurer, the money came out of the $5.5 million DMHAS got in 2016 from the 21st Century Cures Act.

As part of the deal, Community Health Resources, which also is handling Osborn’s program, will have to build a statewide re-entry network to ensure the formerly incarcerated have access to treatment once they leave Osborn.

l.boyle@theday.com

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