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Sheriff Apple and Community Partners Announce Expansion of Treatment Resources in Albany County Jail
With overdose deaths continuing to rise, SHARP unit adds two additional medications proven to improve outcomes for people with opioid dependency.
Albany, NY: Today, a coalition of public safety, public health, and community groups working with the Albany County Sheriff’s office announced the multi-phase implementation of a robust Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) program to operate within the county jail. The new program is expected to save lives and connect people detained in Albany County Jail with evidence-based treatment and care. The program builds on the success of the Sheriff’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (SHARP) implemented in 2015 and is the result of a unique collaboration between government and community agencies working in public safety and public health, including: Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, CFG Health Systems, Albany County, New York State Department of Health, Whitney M Young Jr. Health Services, Conifer Park, Catholic Charities Care Coordination Services, and the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice.
In 2015 the SHARP unit at the Albany County Correctional Facility began using Vivitrol, an extended-release medication (naltrexone) used for opioid dependency. In order to build on this innovative effort, beginning January 22nd two other medications will be available to individuals meeting the clinical criteria for treatment. Facility medical staff are partnering with Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Center and Conifer Park to continue treatment for individuals who enter the facility on methadone through these programs. In addition, CFG medical staff will now have the ability to treat individuals with buprenorphine. Both of these medications are clinically shown to improve outcomes for people with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).
At full implementation, people entering the facility who have been prescribed these medications will continue treatment through release, and individuals who identify as having purchased and taken buprenorphine without a prescription will be screened and treated accordingly. In the final phase, individuals who have not been on treatment with buprenorphine or naltrexone but desire to be will have the opportunity to begin treatment before release. Counseling will continue to be available through the facility’s Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselors (CASACs). In all cases discharge planning prior to release by the CASACs will include case management and linkage and referral services provided by Catholic Charities Care Coordination Services to ensure that housing, treatment, medical, and other needs are addressed using the full array of services and organizations available.
“The Albany County Sheriff’s Office has been committed and unwavering in the face of the ruthless disease of addiction. The reality is, that people battle addiction every single day, and we are proud to partner and bring expertise and resources which will help to combat that battle. This is an important step forward and it is our hope that by expanding the Medically Assisted Treatment options available at our facility, we will help to close the revolving door of people with substance use disorder and save lives” said Craig D. Apple, Sr., Sheriff of Albany County.
“We know from a preponderance of evidence that these medications work, and if we are to take an all pathways, all settings approach to reducing death and harm resulting from opioid misuse, deploying these resources within correctional settings is crucial. Providing a continuum of care that includes medications, counseling, harm reduction, case management, and linkage to ongoing care will improve outcomes for people post-release and reduce the number of fatal overdoses,” said Keith Brown, Director of Health and Harm Reduction at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, who worked with Sheriff Apple and his staff to develop the program.
People detained at the jail’s SHARP unit provided their input and perspectives to physicians and public health officials during a site visit about the project and to the facility’s counselors during project planning. Feedback from these individuals indicated a high level of support for the initiative. Others with directly impacted experiences who were contacted about the effort voiced similar support. Katal members, Bill and Susan said, “As people who have experienced both addiction and involvement in the criminal justice system, we firmly believe this will make a big difference. Giving people treatment while inside, and also setting them up with services outside can really help people like us handle the legal, housing, health, and other issues they face as a result of their addiction. While nobody should have to make it to jail to get treatment, things like this can offer people another way into recovery.”
Albany County officials have led in this effort, including Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, Commissioner of Health for Albany County who says of the launch, “Institution of MAT in the jail setting provides a great opportunity to positively impact the health of a population with a high incidence of opioid misuse and dependence. Initiating treatment in a controlled, safe environment has been shown to increase the likelihood of successful treatment, and reduce morbidity and mortality associated with opioid use disorder.” “Leading edge initiatives like expanding medication availability for individuals while incarcerated will no doubt save lives and improve rates of recovery upon release from jail,” added Dr. Stephen Giordano, Albany County Mental Health Commissioner.
Dr. Kimberly Sue, Medical Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, has been providing crucial clinical guidance and technical assistance to the medical staff delivering treatment through this initiative. Of the expansion she says, “It’s wonderful to see how the combined efforts of community advocacy, political will and public health investment can lead to a program providing evidence-based medication for opioid use disorder. We already know that providing buprenorphine and methadone in these settings is associated with up to 60-85% reduction in overdose deaths within four weeks of release. Albany County Jail’s program is an example of how criminal justice programs can act expeditiously in the setting of the ongoing US opioid overdose crisis to improve the health and human rights of people who use drugs.”
Increasing access to Medication Assisted Treatment has been a key goal of New York State agencies, several of which have been involved in this effort. New York State Commissioner of Health, Dr. Howard Zucker said, “Governor Cuomo signalled the state’s ongoing support of these programs on Tuesday, when he announced new proposals to fight the opioid epidemic. These proposals include aggressively expanding access to medication assisted treatment across the state, including in criminal justice settings. County jails play a critical role in reducing the devastation of this crisis, while providing those incarcerated with the resources needed to live healthy and productive lives upon re-entering the community. We commend all those at Albany Correctional Facility and our community partners working to make these truly life-saving medications accessible for these particularly vulnerable individuals.”
“Studies show that the rate of overdose deaths among persons just released from custody is 8 to 12 times higher than the rate among the rest of the population. So, providing addiction treatment services to people in the criminal justice system will improve their chances of avoiding an overdose and staying in recovery following their release,” said NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner, Arlene González-Sánchez. “With Governor Cuomo’s leadership, OASAS has made it a priority to work with jails and correctional facilities to ensure adequate implementation of medication-assisted treatment to those persons in custody who are suffering from a substance use disorder.”
Stephanie Lao, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Care Coordination Services, whose Project Safe Point program will be coordinating care for people through this initiative said, “Project Safe Point is very excited to be part of this innovative collaboration. This population is both vulnerable and underserved, and this is an opportunity to engage and support individuals in accessing harm reduction services. Medically Assisted Treatment is proven to be a vital step towards reducing drug overdose deaths and helping people successfully seek treatment for their opioid use. This partnership will save lives.”
CFG Medical Services, PLLC, the facility’s medical provider stated, “We have always viewed truly comprehensive substance abuse treatment as a continuum of both quality mental and medical care. With nearly 20 years of experience providing services to incarcerated populations, CFG recognizes that treatment provided to offenders must be holistic in nature and also needs to involve all stakeholders – jail administration, clinical caregivers, community agencies and the inmates themselves. This is why CFG is especially proud to be a part of this innovative, joint initiative. Through involvement in similar programs at other jails, CFG knows that MAT/MAR provides one of the best possible chances of reducing inmates’ risks for opioid dependence, relapse, overdose and repeat incarceration – while also increasing opportunities for successful transition to the community upon release. The revolving door that is recidivism is often tied to drug charges and addiction. Keenly aware of this, and the nationwide epidemic that is opioid dependence, CFG actively seeks to support the continued sobriety of inmates who have undergone detox and participated in targeted programming while behind bars. We commend all parties involved and are confident that with the implementation of MAT/MAR as part of a collaborative effort to address the specter of addiction from all angles, the Albany County Correctional Facility can help addicted inmates break a vicious cycle.”
“Albany County is at the forefront in taking a collaborative approach to drug-related harm and reform efforts, and this initiative marks another historic step in the right direction. We continue to view drug use as a health issue in this area and have taken bold, significant steps to do so- from syringe exchange, naloxone distribution, drug user health hubs and other harm reduction efforts, to our Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, to ambulatory treatment, buprenorphine and methadone expansion, area stakeholders including those involved in this effort are not simply saying “we can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” but are demonstrating the concrete steps necessary to do something different. I commend Sheriff Apple for continuing to take a balanced, nuanced approach to this issue and hope this serves as inspiration for County Sheriffs and other law enforcement leaders across New York State to do the same,” said Keith Brown.
Sheriff Apple summed up the initiative and his role by saying, “My job is to protect public safety, and enforcement is only one tool to do so. With a crisis of this magnitude, we need to deploy every resource available to save lives and help people get better. At the end of the day this initiative will do exactly that.”