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April 15, 2022

‘Stepping stone’: Trone learns about opioid treatment program at detention center

Credit: Cumberland Times-News, Lindsay Renner-Wood

CRESAPTOWN, Md. — A pilot program at the Allegany County Detention Center has been effective in treating inmates living with opioid addiction even after their incarceration ends, facilitators and county law enforcement officials told U.S. Rep. David Trone Thursday. 

As part of a two-day tour of Western Maryland, Trone (D-Md. 6) spent the morning at the detention center learning about a telemedicine program established last April at the facility through the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The program is funded by a $600,000 two-year grant given by the New York-based Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts, or FORE, and is the second of its sort statewide. The first was established in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore.

Through the program, participating inmates receive medication-assisted treatment and have virtual appointments with University of Maryland doctors. They also receive counseling through the Allegany County Health Department. One of the participating clinicians, psychiatrist Dr. Eric Weintraub, presented on the program’s efficacy following a tour of the jail and explanation of the program.

Many of the program’s patients, Dr. Weintraub said, are “good people that want all the things that all of us want: Family, stability and a home.” In his observation during his years in practice, Weintraub said he has observed that many people do well while they aren’t incarcerated and receiving regular treatment.

However, a return to jail and loss of access to the necessary therapy can lead patients to relapse, sometimes overdosing and dying as a result, he said.

“We know that over half of the people that get incarcerated have a substance use disorder, that 15% have opioid use disorder, and 15% of deaths upon release involve opioid overdose,” Weintraub said. “So people get detoxified, they have no tolerance, they leave, they use fentanyl — which is highly deadly — and they die.”

For two weeks after one is released from incarceration, the risk of opioid overdose for those battling addiction is 12.7 times higher than average, Weintraub said. The pilot program is intended “as a stepping stone to a better place” to hopefully address that issue before it ever arises for its participants. 

Since its inception last year, Weintraub said, Allegany’s pilot program has had 106 participants. The average participant is incarcerated for 120 days and their course of treatment lasts 60 days. Of 80 participants released from incarceration in that time, 59 have kept their follow-up appointments for treatment once out of jail, and 83% of patients offered a prescription for a “bridge,” or limited supply of medication, have filled them.

Capt. Dan Lasher of the Allegany County Sheriff’s Office said the pilot program is a way for participants to overcome their addiction and lead more successful lives upon release.

“At the end of the day, what we want is for this person to become a positive member of society,” Lasher said. “Whether they take the opportunity or not is up to them, but at least they have that opportunity. Some never do. They come from third- or fourth-generation families (experiencing substance misuse) sometimes. If they never see what another life looks like, it’s just going to continue.”

Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts President Karen Scott said the grant that funds the program was one of the first the foundation issued, and she was “very impressed” to see the level of cooperation between those administering it, as well as its overall success in aiding patients.

“To see that they’ve been able to keep some of the people connected to treatment after they leave, when we know that’s such a high risk period — and that’s why we did the grant in the first place — is really encouraging,” Scott said.

Trone called the program a “shining star” and credited Lasher, Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson and the rest of the staff and participants for their work to help the patients fighting addiction.

“We’ve got the sheriff, the captain here and the whole team very progressively trying to do something a heck of a lot better for the folks in Western Maryland,” Trone said.

Redistricting

Following the tour, Trone, who is up for reelection, shared briefly his thoughts on the state’s newly-redrawn Congressional district map.

Gerrymandering, Trone said, “has taken both parties to the extreme, far right and far left.” In March, Judge Lynne Battaglia threw out the map previously approved by the state legislature, calling it “a product of extreme partisan gerrymandering.” Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, approved the redrawn map last week.

While Trone said the new map might mean a tougher road to reelection for him, he was confident in his odds.

“I think the new district is a tougher district for me, but I’m going to win,” Trone said. “I think I’ll win because people know I show up, I’m present, and I’m working on the issues they care about, and we’re working bipartisan. Whoever works the hardest always wins, and I’ve always worked the hardest. I love showing up, and I love Western Maryland. We made Western Maryland the focus of our district, and I think people realize that. The issues we’ve worked on — addiction, mental health and creating jobs, jobs, jobs — that’s what resonates with folks.”