The Snohomish County Jail will be offering medication-assisted detox for inmates as part of a pilot program. The initiative makes the jail among the first in the state to try this tactic.
The idea for the program came from the medical staff at the county jail because their unit has been consistently running at 200 percent capacity since 2013.
Shari Ireton, the communications director for the county sheriff’s department, says the vast majority of those inmates are dealing with symptoms of heroin or opioid withdrawal.
“Imagine the worst flu you’ve ever had, times that by 10, and add in uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, chills,” she said.
According to a news release, prior to medication-assisted detox, an inmate withdrawing from heroin or other opioids was housed in the jail’s medical unit for a minimum of 3 days, and their only option was a “hard” withdrawal.
But now they're introducing a medication called Suboxone, which is an FDA-approved drug used for medically assisted detox and treatment.
“They’re actually up walking around. They’re able to eat, take a shower," Ireton said. "They kind of see what it looks like on the other side of that withdrawal. And hopefully gives them the motivation then to seek medication-assisted treatment.”
There is a distinction here: This program is meant for 30 inmates at a time who are in the midst of detox only. Staying clean and maintaining treatment afterward is another challenge.
“If they aren’t on some type of opiate, whether it’s a medication or an illicit drug, they don’t feel normal,” University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute researcher Caleb Banta-Green said. “And then what happens then is that when they’re released, they’re very likely to relapse, and the overdose risk is incredibly high in the first couple weeks after being incarcerated.”
Ireton says the jail can’t offer that kind of maintenance, at least not right now. There aren’t enough medical staff and the jail needs to see buy-in from the inmates as well.
“To get somebody into medication-assisted treatment, it takes the right set of circumstances. And really that inmate has to be willing to take that step, because it’s going to be up to them to do the enormous hard part, which is getting to recovery,” she said.
But this pilot program could be a good way to gauge interest to see how many want to get clean and stay that way.