A new pilot program for local probationers and parolees could give felony offenders with opioid addiction a chance to get clean and stay out of prison. The medication-assisted treatment aims to give felony offenders an opportunity to recover from their addiction and break the cycle of recidivism.
"You have to give people an opportunity to change," IDOC Probation and Parole Deputy Chief Greg Lewis said. "If they're having struggles with opioid use, they can be referred by the probation officer."
Currently, the program is in its early stages. Over the last few weeks, roughly a dozen people on felony probation or parole have been referred to take part in the pilot program. Eventually, 50 people in the Ada and Canyon County justice systems, currently struggling with opioid addiction, will begin medication-assisted treatment to treat Opioid Use Disorder.
M.A.T. has recently become a more widely accepted way to treat opioid addiction, in this case, by medicating addicts with a daily dose of Suboxone with the help of Terry Reilly Health Services.
"They start them out with a three day supply of pills, and then as the offender progresses and they're checking in and doing well, that prescription may be extended for a longer and longer period of time if they're compliant," Lewis said.
Those in the program will be subject to drug testing at any visit to ensure the medication is being used properly.
"And if it's too high or too low, that would indicate that either they're not taking their medication or maybe they're trying to introduce another opioid into this process," Lewis said.
While the thought of using medication-assisted treatment for inmates or probationers is new to Idaho, it's already being done with success in other states.
"It seems to show an increase in treatment engagement, it slows the spread of communicable diseases through dirty needles, it seems to indicate longer periods of sobriety and lower crime rates," Lewis said. "So that's the research that I've seen and what our department is looking at for this pilot."
A recent study in Rhode Island showed M.A.T. dramatically lowered the number of fatal overdoses among released inmates. In the first six months of 2017, less than 6% of the fatal overdose victims were recently released from jail compared to more than 14% the year before, which suggests the program helped decreased overdose deaths in that population by 60%.
"We hear a lot of positive things, we see a lot of positive research, we're hearing good things, but we don't have the data right now to indicate that it's something that we would recommend for our board," Lewis said.
So the Department of Correction will track the progress of those 50 patients over the next year, and if the outcome seems to be worth the investment, the department hopes to consider a more permanent solution.
Treatment for a year will be about $5,000 per patient, so $250,000 total. The funds are coming from a pre-existing budget dedicated to drug and alcohol services.