Sheriff, doctor tout med treatment for addiction

  • Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan speaks with Dr. Ruth Potee prior to a gathering of state and local officials at the offices of the Northwestern District Attorney in Greenfield. Donelan and Potee were featured speakers during a Monday presentation about treating addiction in county jails. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 6/30/2020 4:49:12 PM

GREENFIELD — Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan and Dr. Ruth Potee took part Monday in a virtual conference about treating addiction in rural jails.

The discussion, “Challenges & Opportunities in Implementing Medication-Based Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in Rural and Mid-Sized County Jails” was held via Zoom as part of an ongoing series hosted by the O’Neill Institute’s Addiction and Public Policy Initiative, which is housed at the Georgetown University Law Center. The center works to advance evidence-based policies relating to substance use disorder throughout the country.

The goal of Monday’s discussion was to provide a “deep dive” into the challenges rural and mid-size counties face in implementing medication-based treatment, and opportunities for reform. Donelan, who also serves as co-chair of the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region, spoke alongside Potee as they shared their experiences developing a medically assisted treatment program for addiction.

“It was my relationship with Dr. Potee and our work together in the community that really formed my position on addiction and how we deal with addiction,” Donelan said. “I viewed addiction as something that people who broke the law were involved with, and as a sign of lack of willpower. But working with Dr. Potee really helped form my thinking around addiction as a disease and medical condition.”

Donelan said Potee’s discussion, Physiology of Addiction, has become required training for new officers of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. He said he wants to treat addiction like any other disease, and allow the medication needed by those struggling with it.

In 2016, the jail began a medically assisted treatment program with its pretrial detention unit. Donelan said anyone arriving at the jail with a doctor’s prescription for suboxone would remained on suboxone. According to Donelan, the jail used to take medication away from people who arrived and force them to detox off it.

Last year, the state released the Chapter 55 Overdose Report. Donelan said jail populations were listed as among the highest risk of suffering from an overdose and death. He said there was an immediate and noticeable change as a result of allowing inmates to take medication through the program. Donelan said the number of severe detox watches dropped dramatically and aggressive behaviors declined.

“Most importantly, the number of opioid overdose deaths in Franklin County dropped by over 40 percent in the year we implemented this policy,” Donelan said.

In 2018, the program was expanded to its sentenced population, and the jail began complete medical assessments of everyone arriving. The medically assisted treatment program works through intensive skill building, mindfulness-based programs, trauma-informed care and vocational training.

Last year, with the help of Potee, the Franklin County House of Correction in Greenfield became the first in the state, and among the first in the country, to provide methadone in-house in an effort to subdue addiction.

“We’ve seen a reduction in recidivism and a reduction in overdose deaths here in Franklin County, and that shows that this model works,” Donelan said.

Potee, medical director for the Opioid Task Force and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, spoke to the importance of providing inmates and patients with medication or treatment to overcome their substance abuse disorders.

“The benefits of medications for opioid use disorder include a reduction in illicit opioid use post-incarceration, a reduction in criminal behavior post-incarceration, reduction in mortality and overdose risk post-incarceration, and reduced levels of HIV risk behaviors,” Potee explained.

Despite the evidence of benefits, Potee said, methadone maintenance treatment facilities are hard to establish in prisons and jails. She said this is in part because of the bias against methadone and other prescription drug use, and concern of the medication being diverted within the correctional facility.

However, Potee said the “dirty little secret” is that correctional facilities already have diverted contraband within their walls. She also said medication being circulated as contraband has shown to decrease after the implementation of such treatment programs.

Potee outlined different options for developing medically assisted treatment programs within correctional facilities. She said the Franklin County House of Correction went through a 14-month process to become its own methadone clinic and be able to prescribe medication on-site by health care professionals. This required the facility to be certified by the Opioid Treatment Program and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Another option may see a house of correction partner with an existing opioid treatment program that could provide on-site medication, or a program that would provide daily transportation to get medication off site.

While progress is being made, Potee said there is still work that needs to be done at the federal and state levels to make these programs accessible to correctional facilities across the country.

Other members of Monday’s discussion included: William Jenkins, registered nurse and jail health administrator for the Eaton County, Mich. Sheriff’s Department; Dr. Deborah Furr-Holden, associate dean for public health and director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions at Michigan State University; and Brandon George, director of the Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition.

The full discussion, which lasted an hour and a half, will be available to view at


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