State grant helps fund Atlantic County jail’s drug addiction treatment program

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Atlantic County officials say that a new grant from the state will help them fight the ongoing opioid epidemic in the county’s jail.

County Executive Dennis Levinson says that treating drug addiction in jail can be difficult.

"When you have someone incarcerated, they automatically go through cold turkey,” he says.

Levinson says that Atlantic County was the first in the state to bring drug addiction treatment on site to the inmates. And he says that a new $485,000 grant from the state will help the program expand. It will now include a patient dosing station, exam and phlebotomy rooms and a counseling office.

"While you have them, they’re a captive audience. They don't have much of a choice. They have to go through withdrawal, which is extraordinarily painful,” says Levinson. “We can medicate them while they're there and we can follow up. Our medical team is in there and then we have the medications and each person is a separate case and then of course when they are released into society, we can follow them also with different programs and make sure that they don't fall off the wagon."

County officials say that the grant money is a critical part of keeping the program running. But they say the even without it they would find a way to keep the program running because of how much of an impact it has on the inmates.

"The recidivism rate was around 80%, and with this treatment we're down to about 45%. So, we're making great progress,” Levinson says.

He adds that this program is not just about treating addiction, but also saving lives.

“We have some chronic individuals that are trying to break their habit and it's very difficult for them to do so without help. Some of them will be on treatment, possibly the rest of their lives, but at least we can try and turn them into productive citizens and rather than taking continually from society, maybe give back,” says Levinson.

Atlantic County was the first in the state to launch a medication assistance treatment initiative. The state is now providing $8 million in funding for other county jails to do the same.

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