ENSO Recovery plans to team up with York County Jail to offer a grant-funded  drug recovery program to inmates. ENSO Executive Director Steve Danzig, ENSO owner Tim Cheney and York County Sheriff William L. King Jr. paused to talk about the program during a tour of York County Jail on Monday. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

ALFRED – Ask York County Sheriff William L. King Jr. about the numbers of jail inmates who have opioid use disorder, and he’s pretty blunt.

“I walk through the (jail) doors everyday and eight to 10 people are detoxing, “ he said. “Many  already have.”

But being detoxed doesn’t mean someone is free of opioids, and although drugs may be out of reach in an a jail or prison setting, that doesn’t mean the craving has disappeared, or that the individual, once released, won’t succumb to it.

A new program which will provide medication-assisted recovery combined with intensive counseling is on the horizon, designed to treat some who are incarcerated.

And while he described announcement of the new pilot program to treat some York County Jail inmates as a bit premature, King said once finalized, the program will enhance the jail’s ability to provide treatment.

“We’re very excited. I plan to give a presentation to our county commissioners, and I am sure they’ll be equally excited about this concept,” King said at the jail on Monday.

He doesn’t have hard and fast numbers, but King will tell you that the majority of the 200 or so inmates incarcerated at the jail on Monday have opioid problems.

The idea of treating inmates was presented to King by ENSO Recovery owner, Tim Cheney, more than a year ago.

The program is designed to help about 10 people at a time on a rotating basis. Once chosen through assessment by ENSO Recovery and the jail’s health care provider, Correctional Health Partners, the selected inmates will begin the program, which includes suboxone medication and and three hours of intense therapy five days a week. Upon release from jail, they’ll be directed to continued care at ENSO’s new sober house in Sanford.

ENSO Recovery operates three outpatient opioid addiction programs, in Westbrook, Portland and Sanford. Cheney, the owner, has been in recovery for nearly four decades. He is a member of the Maine Substance Abuse Service Commission and has been involved with recovery initiatives for many years. He’s passionate about it.

Cheney and the executive director of ENSO Recovery, Steve Danzig, both say even though someone inside the jail walls has been abstinent from drugs for months, as the days to release dwindle down, the urge to use again ratchets up.

“When the time gets short, the craving starts up again,” said Cheney. “You count the seconds waiting to get out.”

Those who succumb to the cravings may find themselves back inside again soon.

“Recidivism rates are huge with substance use disorder,’ said Danzig.

The pilot program is funded through a federal grant funneled through the state government, with $80,000 earmarked for treating people while they’re in jail and the remaining $80,000 for continued treatment once they’re released, Cheney said. Though it is a pilot program, Cheney said he ‘s confident funding will continue to be available.

“There is enough awareness with Maine’s Legislature that this is something that has to be dealt with,” said Cheney, who is looking for the program to launch before the end of the year.

There is no cost for the program to York County, the sheriff said.

Danzig and Cheney said the program is aimed at inmates who recognize that their drug use is a problem.

The pilot program is separate from Layman Way Recovery Center, a residential treatment program initiated and funded by the county government, in collaboration with York County Shelter Programs, earlier this year. The 24-bed program, located in a separate building on the grounds of York County Jail, treats people who have been arrested for non-violent crimes and who are assessed to be a good fit. Layman Way Recovery Center opened in May and provides medically-assisted treatment along with intensive counseling.

“Recovery comes in many shapes and sizes, and there’s no right way to do it,” said County Manager Greg Zinser of the pending new jail program. “Having a recovery program at the jail is probably a good thing.”

“This will save lives and families,” said Cheney.

“I am satisfied the program follows national standards and there will be a continuum of care once (the inmate) leaves the jail,” said King.

The sheriff said he wasn’t always convinced that medically assisted treatment was a good approach. Then, he said, a woman died from an overdose 24 hours after she had been released from jail.

“The cravings were still there. The brain is altered with opiate (use) and needs to be repaired,” he said. “I was convinced we needed to do more.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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