The state recently announced it will provide $8 million to county jails for medication-assisted treatment for addicted prisoners.
Last year, then-state commissioner of health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, has a higher success rate than other forms of treatment, with “a striking 91 percent” completing it compared to about half for other methods. He said inmates who re-enter society after the treatment are less likely to commit crimes, return to drug use or fatally overdose.
The John Brooks Recovery Center in Pleasantville and the Atlantic County Jail partnered on the first program in the state to bring MAT to county jail inmates. Their pilot program that demonstrated to the state how it would work deserves credit for advancing this important approach to combatting the opioid crisis.
Elnahal visited the Brooks Recovery Center last year to see its mobile treatment center in action. At the jail, addicts use the exam and intake rooms on the converted bus and get medications that reduce the symptoms of drug withdrawal and block the euphoria of opioids.
The Brooks Center told him that 80% to 90% of the program’s inmates are linked to outpatient treatment and support services upon release. And while nationwide up to 80 percent of those released are subsequently arrested again, just 45 percent of those getting medication-assisted treatment return to crime.
The state then put $1.7 million into a pilot MAT program in multiple counties, modeled in part on the work of the Brooks Center and Atlantic County. At a recent Atlantic City summit on the opioid crisis, state Commissioner of Human Services Carole Johnson announced funding to provide MAT, already a standard at state prisons, at all county jails.
Johnson said providing treatment while in jail and afterward is crucial, since addicts lose their tolerance of drugs while in prison and after release are as much as 129 times as susceptible than the general public to dying from an overdose. She said the state has also reduced Medicaid requirements for patients to get into treatment, trained hundreds of doctors in MAT prescribing, and enabled paramedics to offer one form of MAT to overdose victims revived with naloxone.
The Brooks Center and Atlantic County Jail hope to use additional state funding to replace the mobile unit with a treatment dispensary inside the jail.
Medication-assisted treatment is becoming an important tool in the battle against opioid addiction. The administration of Gov. Phil Murphy is saving lives and reducing harm by supporting its widespread use in institutions and communities. MAT is also helping some break free from drugs and crime, which reduces the damage not just to individuals but society.