New Treatments for Surging Number of Inmates Addicted to Heroin Tried in Maryland

Maryland jails and prisons are attempting a series of new treatments for inmates who enter the facilities addicted to heroin.

A review by the News4 I-Team shows state and local correctional officials administering acupuncture, methadone and a new medicine called Vivitrol to cope with a surging number of heroin-addicted inmates.

The wide variety of techniques and treatments indicate a lack of a universal plan for reducing withdrawal sicknesses in drug addicted offenders but also include a series of success stories, according to jail administrators who spoke with the I-Team.

Heroin overdoses have tripled in Maryland since 2008, according to state records. Jail officials and inmates told the I-Team they’ve seen a growing number of heroin withdrawal cases among offenders behind bars. Harry King, an inmate in the Frederick County Jail, said drug withdrawal is so common it has been nicknamed “dope sickness.” King said it includes many of the same symptoms of influenza, King said. “(Inmates) look like zombies,” he said. “They can’t even get out of bed. They can’t sleep.”

Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore is among the first jail officials in the nation to dispense Vivitrol, a medicine designed to limit cravings or desire for drugs by impacting the brain. Vivitrol, which Mullendore said costs $1,500 per dosage per inmate, is administered by county employees in the jail in Hagerstown. Inmates must be clean for at least seven days to qualify for the treatment, Mullendore said. “The addiction is so great,” he said. “The normal lay person doesn’t understand that. It almost calls them immediately.”

Counseling alone is not sufficient to handle the severe withdrawal symptoms of heroin addicts, Mullendore said.

Maryland state prison officials offer acupuncture treatments to drug-addicted inmates. The program, launched in the 1990s, has become increasingly important amid the surge in heroin addiction and overdoses.

The acupuncture treatment is effective for many inmates, a state correctional official said. “The treatment benefit is immediate, tangible and apparent even to the person who has entered the treatment center for the first time, and can be provided as an initial treatment intervention before this person has to establish a bonding relationship of confidence and trust with the counseling staff, he said.”

“Heroin is a very, very strong addiction,” state correctional administrator Nicole Jackson said. “It's not something that you can just take a pill for, a medication for, and it goes away. It stays with you. You need to get constant, constant treatment for it.”

The state prison in Baltimore also offers methadone treatments for inmates, to help reduce withdrawal. The methadone dosages are dispensed at 5 a.m. some mornings inside the prison. I-Team cameras captured images of inmates lining up for treatments.

Robert Schwartz, medical director of the Friends Research Institute, said heroin withdrawal is severe. “It's basically like a really horrible case of the flu,” Schwartz said. “People are sweating. They're nauseous. They can have vomiting. The pupils are dilated, and bones ache.”

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said his county is at the epicenter of the state’s growing heroin epidemic. Though the sheriff’s department is considering dispensing Vivitrol to inmates later this year, it has not yet begun the use of any medical treatments to help inmates cope with heroin withdrawal.

The county offers a series of counseling and behavioral health services but has not approved methadone treatments, Jenkins said. “When the door slams shut, everybody wants their mama and finds Jesus,” he said. “It’s time to fish or cut bait. It’s on (the inmates) to clean up. You’re forced to clean up in here.”

Gov. Larry Hogan approved $500,000 in grant money for local jails to use for the purchase of Vivitrol. The jails would be permitted to make Vivitrol available for monthly dosages to a limited number of inmates, he said. “Addressing Maryland’s heroin crisis and helping to break the cycle of crime and re-incarceration associated with addiction requires us to offer those reentering society with the tools to live sober, healthy and productive lives,” he said.

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