HELENA — Lewis and Clark County will soon begin providing medication for substance use treatment inside the county detention center.
On Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously accepted a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for the Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Site-based Program. The money will pay for medications like buprenorphine and naltrexone for inmates in the detention center. Those medications are used to suppress cravings for opioids and reduce the drugs’ effects.
The grant will also fund a contracted addiction specialist and case manager to work with inmates.
County leaders say a large portion of those in the jail have issues with substance abuse – particularly with opioids. They believe starting them on medication-assisted treatment in the jail could reduce their likelihood of reoffending.
“If we do nothing about opioid addiction and other addictions, then we can’t expect any other result than they will continue to use, the same behaviors, and come back to us,” said Commissioner Andy Hunthausen. “That doesn’t help their life, it doesn’t help our system, and it doesn’t make any progress toward any resolution of this issue.”
Sheriff Leo Dutton acknowledged MAT may appear “atypical,” but that he’s hopeful it can be a positive step for inmates dealing with substance use disorders.
“It looks like you’re continuing on with an addiction, but you’re not,” he told MTN. “Maybe you’re helping them get off of that path.”
Lewis and Clark County has been part of a nationwide initiative to address substance use in detention centers for about a year and a half, with support from the commission, Dutton and other leaders. The Justice Department selected the county as one of 15 to participate in the MAT Bridges program.
The county has already been contracting with PureView Health Center and the Helena Indian Alliance to pick up released inmates and connect them with peer support and other treatment resources. However, those organizations say what they’re able to do is limited because they aren’t providing services in the jail itself.
“The biggest roadblocks have been some of the things that these funds would cover,” said Kyle Johnson, a counselor with the Helena Indian Alliance.
Kellie McBride, director of Lewis and Clark County’s Criminal Justice Service Department, told MTN the county will have to install some new security measures at the jail, including cameras and a safe to hold the medication. She said an addiction counselor for the jail could be found within four to eight weeks.
Leaders said, while the new treatment program is centered in the detention center, they expect the benefits to extend into the community as a whole.
“The very bottom line of this is public health and safety,” said Commissioner Susan Good Geise.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the commission accepted a $34,890 grant from the Montana Mental Health Trust, to fund a suicide prevention pilot project. The Safer Communities Montana project would focus on strategies related to firearms and pharmaceuticals – two common means of suicide in the state.
For example, the project would provide tip sheets and education to firearm dealers, gun ranges and pawn shops to help them identify warning signs of suicide. Pharmacies would receive their own tip sheets and access to safe medication disposal kits. All of those locations would get public materials to post on topics like safe storage and available crisis resources.
“I think the more tools, the better, that we can employ,” said Hunthausen.