County jail Suboxone program gets $1.5M

  • Franklin County Jail and House of Correction in Greenfield. File photo

  • In this July 23, 2018, photo, nurse Brian Toia holds tabs of buprenorphine, a drug which controls heroin and opioid cravings, as he prepares to administer the drug, known also by the brand name Suboxone, to selected inmates at the Franklin County jail in Greenfield. File photo

  • In this July 23, 2018, photo, several Franklin County Jail inmates seated at right are watched by nurse Brian Toia, left, and a corrections officer after they received their daily doses of buprenorphine, a drug which controls heroin and opioid cravings. File photo

Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2018 12:48:20 AM

GREENFIELD — The  federal government is investing in the Franklin County jail’s pioneering use of medication-assisted addiction treatment for inmates and former inmates.

The House of Correction has just received $1.5 million to expand its Suboxone program for opioid addicts here and to help start a similar program in the Hampshire County House of Correction.

The money will allow Franklin County’s Elm Street facility to  fund its Suboxone program with more stability, and to fund scientific research into the program’s effectiveness. The money is for three years.

“What I keep saying to everybody is I’m not investing in doing Suboxone in jail. I’m investing in doing what works,” Franklin County House of Correction Sheriff Christopher Donelan said. “If this is what works, then I think every sheriff in the country should be doing it.”

The program in its second year currently costs about $500,000 per year, Donelan said, but the price tag for it is still in flux. The treatment program began in 2016 and has been funded by state grants previously, and has required the sheriff to deficit spend — with the hopes of being reimbursed by the state later in the year — to run the pilot.

Now, the newest funding, provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will allow for Donelan to spend less out of his operating budget and to hire two additional full-time staffers. About a quarter of the grant money will go to Greenfield, while the majority of it will be spent in creating the Suboxone program from the ground up at the Hampshire County House of Correction. 

The concept behind the program is to not force inmates into an immediate detox when they go to the jail, especially if they were actively using a substance like heroin before entering the jail.  The program has been developed in part by local opioid expert Dr. Ruth Potee, who’s the jail’s medical director. 

Instead, this form of treatment is intended to ease with the overall recovery process, and it provides continued support after the inmate leaves the jail.

“That’s a whole lot better than forcing somebody to detox and sending them on the street,” Donelan said. “We turn them into a drug seeking missile.”

The jail has treated about 200 inmates with Suboxone since it started in 2016, and treats about 30 people daily, Donelan said. About 40 percent of inmates have used heroin in the last year, according to the jail. 

The federal grant also funds research out of the University of Massachusetts. Elizabeth Evans will be conducting the study, and Donelan said her data collection will help show to what extent the program is working. Some questions he said they hope to answer are whether this program will decrease the number of overdoses in the community and if recidivism decreases. 

A bill adopted by the state Legislature this August helps to create programs in five county jails, including Franklin and Hampshire, along with Hampden, Middlesex and Norfolk counties. 

“Clearly (the Legislature) want us to do this,” Donelan said. “We have to get our arms around how much does this cost.”

While opioid overdoses decreased in Greenfield in 2017, numbers have climbed back up in 2018 with the increased presence of fentanyl as an additive in some heroin. 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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