Addiction recovery experts applaud DOC’s MAT program

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – More inmates are getting the chance to start addiction recovery while in prison. Over the last few months, the Indiana Department of Corrections has been working to make medical-assisted treatment available to more inmates.

Experts in the addiction recovery field are applauding the DOC’s expansion of its medically-assisted treatment or MAT program. Some want to see something similar at a local level, in county jails.

Before this expansion, offenders were eligible to take part in the program, which provides medication that blocks the effects of alcohol and opiates, once they reached 36 months until release. Now, offenders can request the treatment at anytime during incarceration.

“Through no fault of their own [DOC] is a huge system,” Bowen Center Director of Addiction Recovery Services Megan Fisher said. “That’s a very large ship to turn when you’re trying to make changes so I was fairly surprised they were so in tune to what was going on, and what they needed to get going.”

The DOC reports 60-percent of males entering prison have substance abuse disorder, and 90-percent of those people have problem behaviors associated with the substance abuse. The numbers are similar in local jails.

“Just to walk out of the courtroom and say ‘please don’t use heroin again’ rarely ever works,” Allen Superior Court Judge Wendy Davis said.

Judge Davis said she and others in the local criminal justice system saw past mistakes, and said something has got to give.

“We historically released people from the jail and they would just abscond,” Davis said. “They don’t make it to probation so we can give them services, they don’t make it to community corrections.”

The Allen County Jail, and several other county jails, saw what the issue was–the gap between jail and treatment.

Right now the criminal justice system works with recovery agencies like Park Center. Inmates will get assessed while in jail. Then, upon release, they get a ride to immediately start medically-assisted treatment.

“The tendency before this was from the courtroom they’d go off left and use,” Park Center Manager of Addiction Services Tom Allman said. “This process is intended to get to the right and start their path.”

The Bowen Center also does similar processes in counties across the state. Fisher would like to see more. She’d like to see a MAT program, like the DOC’s, in local jails.

“It’s a long vision perspective,” Fisher said. “We have to look to the future instead of just right here right now.”

“There are a lot of counties that are using medically-assisted treatment in their jails,” Davis said. “Some of the smaller counties.”

Attorney General Curtis Hill is making it easier for counties to chose this option through available grants. Fisher said it’s needed now more than ever in jails since the change in Indiana’s criminal code moved more inmates from prisons to jails.

“They don’t have any treatment services,” Fisher said. “They’ve taken away one of the tools they had to combat this problem, and we haven’t replaced it yet.”

For now, Allen County has decided to keep its system as is and tap into the resources outside the jail.

“We have found that the best way to do it, because we have such strong centers outside the jail, Park Center, Bowen Center and so many more, the sheriff is allowing them to do an assessment so that when we pick them up from the jail, the assessment, the treatment plan is already in place,” Davis said.