Medically assisted drug treatment yielding results and lengthy waiting lists for state inmates

07/07/2017 04:48 PM

FRANKFORT – State inmates hoping to end their opiate and alcohol addictions through the use of Vivitrol must wait as long as six months to enter a state-sponsored treatment program, but most who complete it successfully kick their habits.

That’s according to testimony from the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Friday before lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary.

Jim Erwin, commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said at first he was dismayed at the 12 percent participation rate in the voluntary programs, which utilize Vivitrol along with mental health screening and drug testing. Participants must have completed a traditional addiction treatment before moving on to medically assisted therapy, he said.

But after he dove a bit deeper in the numbers, Erwin found that Kentucky had one of the highest participation rates compared to similar programs across the U.S.

Of the 821 inmates eligible for medically assisted drug treatment, 597 refused, 124 were deferred by parole boards and 100 successfully completed the program for an 80 percent success rate, according to cabinet figures.

About 24,000 Kentuckians are in state custody, officials said.

“I was personally concerned that our participation rate was only 12 percent,” Erwin said. “As we started comparing to other states, other jurisdictions, we found that our participation rate was very high compared to others.”

While the participation rate is lower than he would like, Erwin said state prisons have built up lengthy waiting periods for treatment programs that utilize Vivitrol, which is administered once a month and makes users ill if they consume opiates or alcohol during treatment.

“At this point for our prisons, our waiting list is about six months,” Erwin said. “We have enough beds, enough treatment slots to where we can rotate inmates into those slots as they graduate. We do have treatment slots in halfway houses, Recovery Kentucky centers, there’s really not a wait there.

“Where we are experiencing a wait is in the county jails at this point. When we do our assessment that is our highest need for substance abuse programming is in the jails. The jails are limited because of their physical constraints, their physical constructions. There are jails that would like to have some substance abuse programming, but their physical space limits that.”

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the low participation rate among inmates shows that some would-be participants don’t want to wait six months to get into addiction treatment only to spend another six months in a program.

He said the state should expand access to all forms of drug treatment –behind bars and publicly available – but he’s unsure whether budget constraints like increasing public pension contributions will allow it.

“It is another one of those areas where every dollar we’re spending toward that pension debt we can’t spend on things like medically assisted treatment or substance use care or mental health, behavioral health care or the specialty courts that deal with our community mental health centers across the state,” Westerfield said.

“It’s a real problem, and it’s another one of the facets of the conversation about pension reform and tax reform and the budget that we have to write, and it doesn’t look very good.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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