Editorial: Task force’s impressive dedication to fighting addiction

  • Franklin County Jail residents watch Sheriff Christopher Donelan’s swearing-in ceremony in January. One of the founders of the regional Opioid Task Force, Donelan has introduced a number of programs and measures at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction. Recorder FILE/Andy Castillo

Thursday, December 28, 2017

If we could alter reality, we’d erase the addiction epidemic from our midst.

Sadly, we can’t. So perhaps we should take encouragement from knowing that Franklin County is at the vanguard of our state’s efforts to tamp down opioid addiction. The 4-year-old regional Opioid Task Force was among the first to form in the state and has pioneered a variety of ways to help those ensnared by prescription painkillers or heroin and to reduce the risk of addiction for others. One of the founders of the task force, Sheriff Christopher Donelan, not surprisingly, has introduced a number of programs and measures at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction. He was one of the first to recognize the pervasiveness of the problem, and even four years ago noted the jail had become a sort of rehab clinic, with guards, because so many of the inmates, serving time for other crimes, arrived with addiction.

Now, the state is following Donelan’s lead and providing grants to other state jails to replicate some of the addiction services offered here.

Along with correctional facilities in Bristol, Hampden, Middlesex and Worcester counties, the Greenfield jail will receive a $100,000 grant directed at opioid treatment and recovery services — services that Franklin County House of Correction has pioneered thus far.

The money will primarily fuel pretrial programs for those jail inmates who are on opioid craving suppressants such as Suboxone. This medically assisted addiction treatment (MAT) for patients in pretrial is likely just one of three across the entire country, Donelan said. And now the other jails will be able to offer the same.

The local House of Correction will expand the concept at the other end of incarceration, as well. State money will help to create a similar medically assisted treatment for inmates in their final weeks in the house of correction, and to bring in additional trained clinicians.

Those on pretrial detention are allowed to continue taking medications prescribed to curb their addiction. The jail pays for all other types of medications, and Donelan argues that something like Suboxone should be no different. In the past, Donelan said, the jail would not continue individuals’ opioid-based treatment.

“We would take them off and totally destabilize them,” Donelan told The Recorder. “So to try to deal with that reality, we put together this program.”

The jail will now be able to administer Suboxone-type drugs, not only to people who are on pretrial with an existing prescription, but also to those in the last 60 days of their sentence in a re-entry program. There are a lot of questions on how to best do this and for which inmates, but helping inmates who are in recovery maintain sobriety when they leave the House of Correction makes sense, especially if addiction played an underlying role in the crimes that landed them there in the first place.

As Donelan said, it’s really easy to stay sober in jail, but when you get released, the same old temptations and triggers return. So reinforcing sobriety with medical assistance and counseling may be another valuable service to fight this epidemic.

The task force tries to spot the ways that addiction intersects with the institutions of our society and to address them there. So it is working with schools, hospitals, social service agencies, police, courts, and yes, jails.

If we are to eventually beat down this opioid scourge, we need to attack it on all fronts, and we should be thankful we have dedicated volunteers in the task force willing to pour so much energy and imagination into the process.