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State officials announced expanded drug treatment options at SCI-Laurel Highlands

December 13, 2018 GMT

Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections came to the State Correctional Institution at Laurel Highlands Wednesday to announce plans to expand drug treatment options for inmates.

As part of “Stop Overdoses in Pa.: Get Help Now Week,” department officials announced plans to expand the Medication-Assisted Treatment program, which currently offers naltrexone to inmates suffering from a drug addiction. Officials said the program plans to include methadone and buprenorphine in its treatment options.

Steven Seitchik, program manager for the department, said that in the next few weeks the DOC will be rolling out these drugs at all of its facilities.

“What we are hoping to do here is finally get (drug addiction) treated correctly, keep these individuals alive and give them a chance to go find the ability to recover,” he said.

“Their lives matter as much as anyone else’s.”

The department received a $3.2 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to provide multiple Vivitrol injections prior to inmates’ release from prison and for a pilot program of Sublocade, an injectable form of buprenorphine. Seitchik said there are more than 1,000 inmates using Vivitrol, the brand name for naltrexone, in the DOC system.

“There’s stacks of evidence that show medicated assisted treatment is a viable treatment resource,” he said. “It is critical to keep individuals alive long enough to get them into treatment.”

Earl, an inmate from Fayette County, said that at the age of 20 he was in a car crash and was introduced to opioids. Prison officials would not allow the Daily American to print inmates’ last names.

“I kept chasing the same effects I felt when I was using an opioid,” he said.

Earl, who is part of the MAT program, has been working with counselors to develop a personalized treatment plan, identify triggers that make him use drugs and develop coping mechanisms instead of using drugs. Earl said that after putting chemicals in his body every day, he’s willing to take one shot each month to help save his life and give himself a better opportunity to recover.

“I’ve seen a lot of overdoses; I’ve overdosed myself and I’ve seen people pass away,” he said. “The disease of addiction is progressively fatal. I think people need to give themselves the opportunity to recover.”

There were more than 63,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seitchik said the changes in the MAT program will help officials treat substance abuse as a chronic disease rather than as an acute illness.

“Research results suggest that long-term care strategies of medication management and continued monitoring produce lasting long-term benefits,” he said. “The use of MAT for those suffering from addiction should be insured, treated and evaluated like other chronic illnesses.”

Douglas Dolges, SCI-Laurel Highlands alcohol and drug treatment supervisor, said the facility is a 50-bed in-treatment community, which started to admit patients to the MAT program in April. The key method of treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy.

“It’s an approach to help positive change in individuals, help alleviate emotional distress and address a multitude of psychological, social and behavioral issues,” he said.

The 16-week program is broken down in phases, which include treatment and a focus on preventing relapses and reintegration with the community.

Amanda Rhoades, a state prison Vivitrol social worker, said 19 people are participating in the MAT program. While naltrexone, used at SCI-Laurel Highlands, blocks the receptors in the brain to reduce cravings for opioids, Rhoades said some inmates refuse to be part of the program.

“The reasons for most of the refusals are fear of side effects, and inmates are advised by family members and those close to them that they oppose the use of medication to treat substance abuse,” she said.

Rhoades added that those who re-enter society report significantly fewer cravings, a greater self-worth and a motivation to attend drug and alcohol outpatient counseling because of their time in the program.

Codi, an inmate from Danville, said you have to be honest about yourself and be open-minded about different opportunities to change.

“There are plenty of opportunities out there,” he said. “You don’t have to come to jail to get the opportunities we have. A lot of rehabs are instilling the same kinds of programs and medication maintenance as they are at the DOC.”