Hampden County is facing a public health and public safety crisis unlike anything we have seen before. Opiate addiction has become, quite simply, an epidemic.
This opiate issue does not target race, religion or economic status. This issue affects everyone, from every walk of life in our 23 cities and towns and has become a leading factor in crime. The office of Sheriff must continue to develop and grow the many partnerships we have within the community to attack addiction, because it is a community issue. The opiate epidemic will take everybody's attention to stop its movement forward.
87% of all individuals incarcerated have some type of substance-abuse issue. Opiate addiction is becoming more prevalent daily, and leads as the largest category of drugs that addict our incoming inmates.
My administration will put direct focus to create a task force designed to address this critical issue utilizing a three-pronged approach:
When someone enters jail, treatment and education must go hand-in-hand. Because the day they walk through the gates they are no longer using drugs, they begin the first step to sobriety and hopefully the path to long-term recovery.
First time offenders of opiate abuse do not need to be incarcerated in a jail setting. Instead, they should be offered a treatment bed for their addiction. It is imperative that we generate and secure more treatment beds for first and even some second time offenders of opiate abuse.
The important supervision piece to the treatment bed versus incarceration is that the person leaving the treatment facility will be mandated to have some type of post release supervision. They will be mandated to take weekly drug tests, regularly report to probation officers and positively follow their probation plan.
People are very vulnerable when they leave treatment and supervision gives them a higher percentage rate of success because they have support mechanisms built in place to maintain their sobriety.
Enforcement is not just about the law-enforcement agency arresting the opiate abuser. There are tools that are available to us during investigations where we can find out where the opiates are being prescribed from.
For example you can get a prescription for an opiate from a primary care physician and then another from a physician at the VA hospital. Doctor shopping is a common occurrence.
However, databases do exist in which every prescription must be logged. So judging potential abuse, whether it’s by issuing agent or by receiving party is trackable. We must look at whether the prescribing physicians are working within the system correctly. Is it possible that physicians are too quick to prescribe an opiate in their good faith efforts to stop a patient in pain? We must seriously analyze how the culture of pain management effects addiction.
Enforcement is essential in regaining control of this epidemic that has spiraled out of control. Several agencies must be involved in the enforcement aspect of this initiative. We must have law-enforcement, physicians, support service agencies, parents, teachers, all working together to make sure that our patients do not spiral into the throes of addiction.
Education is broken down into two components, education of the addict and education in the community
It is critical that to be effective in working with the offender, that our inmates understand that we have a zero tolerance policy at the Hampden County Jail when it comes to drugs. When our inmates are within the custody of the Sheriff they will be sober.
Prior to offenders being truly engaged in their treatment they need to understand the enemies that they face. Opiates have become the leader of that group. Education in the classrooms of the Sheriff’s department is still the cornerstone of this work that we do every day. The offender attends classes taught by certified substance abuse treatment personnel. Once we can help the addict to admit there is a problem, they become receptive to the treatment. We can then enter the stages of treatment and through our comprehensive program administered by medical and psychiatric professionals help the individual to recovery.
Education in the community is the second component to eradicating addiction. We must have the Sheriff’s department collaborate with educators and public health professionals in the public schools, especially the middle schools, to help teach our children to the dangers of drugs. We also must work to provide support systems for families of addicts to help them develop the skills and understanding to deal with the offender when he or she returns home.
The Opioid Crisis