Inmates being discharged from York County Jail may soon be offered naloxone through a pilot program under consideration by county officials. Naloxone is the generic form of Narcan, shown here, and is a medication that reverses opioid overdose. Tammy Wells Photo

ALFRED — Inmates being discharged from York County Jail in Alfred may soon be offered a dose of naloxone, the medication that reverses opioid overdose, to take with them as they are leaving the facility.

York County Sheriff William King recently introduced the initiative to York County commissioners. They agreed to examine the proposal.

King said the initiative would be in addition to programs already in place at the county level. York County Jail contracts with an agency to provide a Medication Assisted Treatment program, commonly called MAT, for inmates with opioid misuse, and York County government funds Layman Way Recovery Center, a residential treatment program operated by York County Shelter Programs on the jail grounds. The recovery center offers treatment to some nonviolent pretrial arrestees who are screened and deemed appropriate for the program.

Offering naloxone, King says, recognizes that while the released inmate may not be someone who used opioids, or is someone who has been successful in recovery, having it on hand may well help friends, associates, or family members. He also acknowledged that not everyone who takes part in a recovery program is successful.

“It brings naloxone out into the community,” said King.

Kennebunk Police Chief Robert MacKenzie of the Rural York County Opioid Consortium, a group that includes Southern Maine Health Care, Maine Behavioral Healthcare, Nasson Health Care, Frannie Peabody Center, Kennebunk Police, York Hospital, North East Mobile Health Services, Day One and Strategies for a Stronger Sanford, agreed.

“The person being released most likely knows others who are suffering,” he said. “We think the positives outweigh the negatives.”

Dr. Jessika Morin, medical director of the Rural York County Opioid Consortium as well as the Integrated Medication Assisted Treatment program at Southern Maine Health Care and SMHC  walk-in facilities, said consortium members were glad to hear that there is a MAT program at the jail and wanted to be able to help further.

Morin said it is her understanding that naloxone may be offered to all inmates being discharged from the jail, not just those who have been in a treatment program.

“That’s really exciting,” she said.

The initiative was introduced to York County commissioners just a week before the latest figures on overdose deaths were released Jan. 23 by the Maine Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Attorney General Aaron Frey said drug overdose deaths increased slightly in the first three quarters of 2019.

The report compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, showed that 277 deaths were caused by drugs in January through September of 2019. Sorg’s report forecasts total drug deaths for the year to be four percent higher than in 2018. The vast majority of the overdoses, 84 percent, said Frey, were caused by at least one opioid.

“I am concerned that the number of deaths resulting from overdoses remains high,” said Frey. “The data in this report confirms how significant this crisis is. It will take dedication from elected officials, individuals, organizations, and communities across the state to get to the other side of this, and I am strongly supportive of the efforts underway to turn the tide.”

MacKenzie pointed out that having supports in place, like naloxone, is desirable for people leaving jail.

As well as the proposed naloxone initiative, a separate pilot program with Nasson Health Care to provide release planning to inmates was approved by county commissioners last fall.

“Many times, when somebody is released from jail, they have burned their natural support system,” said King in a prior interview. “They need stable housing and a job. They also need someone to navigate their day-to-day living, such as working with their medically assisted treatment provider. We’re working to reduced recidivism.”

Both King and MacKenzie pointed out that a pilot program to offer naloxone to inmates being discharged from county jails is part of Maine’s Opioid Response Strategic Action Plan.

“The state is in favor and I am in favor because you can save lives,” said MacKenzie.

King told commissioners the program would be revenue neutral. It is expected the naloxone would be accessed from the state.

“I think it’s a great initiative,” County Manager Greg Zinser told county commissioners.

Cumberland County Jail began a similar program in December, and San Francisco County Jail in California did so in 2013.

Accepting naloxone would be voluntary, King said.

“If they’re being released, and they’re amenable, it pushes (naloxone) out into the community,” he said.

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