Boone County Jail becomes first in state to administer suboxone for addiction treatment

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LEBANON, Ind. – Boone County is now administering suboxone to inmates to help control their cravings for opioids, a first of its kind addiction treatment program in a Hoosier jail.

At least two inmates are now taking the narcotic. The goal is to get people on a treatment plan while they are behind bars so they can maintain recovery once they are released.

Sheriff Mike Nielsen said roughly 70% of inmates in Boone County are behind bars for drug related charges. He explained the recidivism rate is just as high.

“What can we put in our toolbox to help these folks who are suffering from addiction?” asked Sheriff Nielsen.

It is a population the sheriff is trying to help through a new treatment program with suboxone.

He believes his jail is the first to administer the narcotic for addiction treatment.

“We don’t believe in incarceration. We believe in rehabilitation here,” he said.

The sheriff’s office seriously looked at medication-assisted treatment options about six months ago. In February, Sheriff Nielsen attended a national opioid conference to learn more about suboxone programs in jails.

In Boone County, two types of people could be administered suboxone.

Sheriff Nielsen said an inmate will be allowed to continue taking suboxone if they were already taking the drug before his or her arrest.

He did not want to force people into withdrawals.

He’s taking it a step further. If someone was not taking the drug before his or her arrest, the jail could offer counseling services to see if that person fits the medication-assisted treatment program. If so, then those inmates could also take suboxone.

“If somebody comes in and they are insulin dependent, are you going to refuse them insulin? Absolutely not,” said Sheriff Nielsen.

He believes this program can help save lives and reduce crime.

“It is trying to reduce crime because they create these crimes, do these crimes, to support their habit,” he said.

The program is funded by a state grant through the Indiana Sheriff’s Association. Sheriff Nielsen said he is already getting push back from law enforcement.

“Across the state and across the country, one of the biggest concerns is diversion,” he said. “The drug comes into our facility, how do you prevent that from getting to other people in our facility?”

He said his jail has body scanners and other types of technology to stop drug trafficking. The sheriff’s office also prefers administering a suboxone strip that dissolves in a person’s mouth so the pills can not be distributed.

“When you do the right thing for the right reasons, sometimes people do not understand that. But it is hard to argue at the end when you are making a difference in peoples’ lives,” he said.

Brandon George is the Executive Director of Indiana Addictions Issues Coalition. He’s working with the sheriff’s office on this.

From personal experience, George believes these programs are beneficial to addicts.

“Sitting across from a doctor with them saying, ‘I am really concerned about you dying and here is a medication that will help keep you alive,” really turned the switch in my head saying, ‘Hey, I don’t want to die,” said George.

George claims this medication-assisted treatment program makes perfect sense because inmates are 120 times more likely to overdose after leaving a facility.

The governor’s office has allocated more than $4 million of state and federal funding to medication-assisted treatment programs in Indiana jails. It hopes to see more of these programs statewide.

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