A new place to attack the opioid crisis

A new place to attack the opioid crisis

For its new mission, the facility underwent a 19-month, $28 million renovation. There are 600 men in the voluntary treatment program now, and another 40 inmates handle work responsibilities around the prison. Some of them are graduates of the treatment program.

12 Mayıs 2018 - 02:00

 

New Jersey's opioid problem has led to a crime problem.

People who are drug addicted often commit crimes and land in prison, and if these individuals don't address their addiction they're likely to commit more crimes and cost society more money, experts say.

Armed with these realities, New Jersey has become one of the first states in the nation to devote an entire prison and millions of dollars to treating inmates with addictions. NJ Advance Media was the first news agency inside to see how it worked.

Unlike most prisons, where just a few inmates get treatment, almost everyone at Mid-State Correctional Facility, a 696-bed facility sequestered on the grounds of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, is treated for a panoply of addictions. This entire institution, in effect, has become a licensed drug-treatment center.

"You haven't seen this in Department of Corrections before," said Christine Alfano, one of those leading this campaign. "They have a different shot. They can go back out and they can live a completely productive life. That is our goal."

The prison is also yet another way to stem the opioid crisis in New Jersey.

The state, on a record pace for drug deaths this year, has had more than 950 deaths so far in 2018, and the number is likely to top 3,000 by the end of the year, according to new state data. 


'A second chance'

There's a strong connection between addiction and crime.


 I don't think you can give people a second chance with both hands tied behind their back. Drug addiction ties their hands behind their back.

— Former Gov. Chris Christie


More than 80 percent of inmates in New Jersey's prisons have an addiction issue, were under the influence when they committed their crime, or committed a crime linked to their drug use, according to the state's chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

When former Gov. Chris Christie announced the reopening of Mid-State as a rehab prison a year ago, he said it would give inmates an opportunity to stop the cycle of addiction and crime.

"I don't think you can give people a second chance with both hands tied behind their back," he said. "Drug addiction ties their hands behind their backs."

For its new mission, the facility underwent a 19-month, $28 million renovation. There are 600 men in the voluntary treatment program now, and another 40 inmates handle work responsibilities around the prison. Some of them are graduates of the treatment program.

The state's only women's prison, Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Hunterdon County, offers the same program in a section of that facility, with about 65 women taking part.

The Gateway Foundation contracted with the state to provide drug treatment services at Mid-State for five years at a cost of $29.2 million, while Rutgers' University Correctional Health Care provides medical services. The annual appropriation for substance use disorder services at Mid-State is $4 million, with another $3.9 million for inmate health care.

exterior Mid-State.JPG

Mid-State Correctional Facility is located in Burlington County. (Michael Mancuso | For NJ.com)

'Before it's too late'

From the outside, Mid-State looks like most other prisons. There are high fences, barbed wire and a guard tower. What's happening inside, though, is unique in New Jersey and the nation.

The primary addictions treated here are alcohol, cocaine and tranquilizers, but most are addicted to heroin and other opioids.

"We treat every kind of addiction here ... you name it, we treat it," said Alfano, director of substance use disorder programing for the Gateway Foundation. "We also have a gambling program."

Once there, inmates receive anywhere from 7 to 28 hours of treatment a week.

In a large room at Mid-State, about 30 inmates dressed in standard-issue beige outfits and white sneakers sit on rows of chairs as a counselor talks about choices. Inmates talk about the choices they've made, and their regrets. It looks like a classroom, complete with a chalkboard.

An inmate in the front row raises his hand to share his story.

"I'm here because I really want to change. I want to do things differently before it's too late," says Daymon Foster, who is serving time on a weapons charge. "I've been getting locked up since I was 11. I ain't never learned as much stuff as I've learned here."

Daymon Foster.JPG

Inmate Daymon Foster speaks about his experience at Mid-State Correctional Facility. (Michael Mancuso | For NJ.com)

Seeking better outcomes

Before Mid-State's new mission, inmates could seek drug treatment in "therapeutic community" programs at six prisons in the system. These services were only available toward the end of an inmate's sentence and were unlicensed, meaning if inmates made progress, they would need to restart treatment from the beginning when they were released.

In addition, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and other recovery services were available to inmates not in the therapeutic communities.

Consolidating multiple unlicensed programs into one licensed, intensive-treatment program at Mid-State allows for more consistency and better outcomes, said Dr. Herbert Kaldany, the state Department of Corrections' director of psychiatry and addiction services.

Services are now available throughout an inmate's sentence and they remain in these programs as long as the professionals treating them believe they need help. More than 100 inmates have already completed treatment at Mid-State.

Inmates not at Mid-State because they don't qualify for a medium-security facility still have access to these same services throughout the prison system.

Some halfway houses offer licensed outpatient treatment, too, and Department of Corrections can connect parolees with community providers who can continue medication-assisted treatments.


Doesn't prison cure addiction?

While some might think that nothing cures addiction better than a few years in prison with no access to drugs, that's not how it works, explained Dr. Tisha Wiley, assistant director for criminal justice at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal research agency within the National Institutes of Health.

"Addiction is a chronically relapsing brain disease," Wiley said. "What this means is that even when people don't have access to their drug of choice, many of the factors that led to, and maintained their addiction, remain."

Drugs such as heroin change how the brain works.

"For opioid addiction in particular, people with an opioid-use disorder have often experienced fundamental changes in how their brain reward systems function," she said.


Kaynak:Nj.com

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