DENVER (CBS4) – Heroin and opioid use in the Denver area is being described as an epidemic by health experts and law enforcement. And professionals in the local courts will tell you one of the biggest issues they face is the number of criminal offenders coming into jails with addiction issues.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“In the last two years, we’ve seen a 47 percent increase in participants into our drug court that indicate heroin or other opioids are their primary drug of choice,” said Scott Prendergast, probation supervisor for the Denver Drug Court.

Many jails in Colorado are simply not equipped to deal with the medical issues that go with handling an addicted inmate. The Denver jail is an exception. The jail currently allows inmates who are on methadone to continue getting their doses while in the jail.

“It is an important part of what we do. It’s important that those folks are maintained on that drug while they’re here,” said Simon Crittle, spokesman for the Denver Sheriff’s Department.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Through a partnership with Denver Health Medical Center and the University of Colorado, the Denver Drug Court is taking addicts who’ve violated probation and getting them on a methadone treatment program to ease them off heroin and increase the odds they’ll fully recover and stay out of trouble. This brand new program is called Medicated Assisted Therapy (MAT) Induction Pilot.

Methadone Dose (credit: CBS)

Methadone Dose (credit: CBS)

A longtime addict named Walter told CBS4 that methadone can make all the difference.

“The methadone enables me, and still enables me, to get through my day and not even think about using opiates,” Walter told CBS4.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Under the new program, inmates are evaluated by the team at Denver Health Medical Center’s Correctional Care Center and then introduced to the methadone treatment.

LINK: Mental Health and Addiction Services at Denver Health Medical Center

“The physician will assess their opioid use disorder and begin the methadone or opioid replacement therapy at that time,” said Lisa Gawenus, manager of Outpatient Behavioral Health Services at Denver Health Medical Center.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

The experts say starting the treatment in the stable environment of the jail is critical.

“This is a controlled, safe and secure environment where there are no other distractions,” said Crittle.

After spending a weekend in jail getting adjusted to the new treatment, the offender’s next stop is the Addiction Research and Treatment Services, or ARTS, at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. ARTS builds on the methadone treatment with counseling and other support services. The inmate will even get a volunteer escort from the jail to the ARTS program to sign up.

LINK: Addiction Research and Treatment Services at CU School of Medicine

“The peer specialist role to help that individual get from one place to the other is to provide that transition, that warm hand-off, that, ‘I know what you’ve been through, I know where you’re going, and everything is going to be okay,’” said Angela Bonaguidi, director of Adult Outpatient Services at ARTS.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

This new program is an innovative partnership between medical and justice agencies. The program is one-of-a-kind in the nation, and all involved hope that it will mean lasting success for its participants.

Comments (5)
  1. sofia says:

    I am a lead counselor for Behavioral Health Group methadone clinic and I think it is a good program that is being started. But the down fall is that other counties don’t offer methadone in the jail which causes a lot of people to go straight back out in the streets looing drugs once released because if not in treatment for 15 days or being dosed we have to discharge from program even though they are incarcerated

  2. mrmX71 says:

    Stop the drug war with objective of shutting down the black market. The drug war has failed. The drug war is driving the problems, not fixing them. Decriminalization/legalization is necessary, it needs to be backed up with public health announcements explaining exactly why it is needed. Its not in any way condoning the abuse of addictors, it is done bc the alternative, the drug war, has made things infinitely worse on almost every level, to include making drugs abundantly available to any & all that wants them.
    We need to pull LE out of the drug biz – that will free up a lot of resources currently chasing their collective tails. When the laws create more harm and cause more damage than they prevent, its time to change the laws. The $1 TRILLION so-called war on drugs is a massive big government failure – on nearly every single level. Its way past time to put the cartels & black market drug dealers out of business. Mass incarceration has failed. We cant even keep drugs out of a contained & controlled environment like prison.
    We need the science of addiction causation to guide prevention, treatment, recovery & public policies. Otherwise, things will inexorably just continue to worsen & no progress will be made. Addiction causation research has continued to show that some people (suffering with addiction) have a “hypo-active endogenous opioid/reward system.” This is the (real) brain disease, making addiction a symptom, not a disease itself. One disease, one pathology. Policy must be made reflecting addiction(s) as a health issue.
    The war on drugs is an apotheosis of the largest & longest war failure in history. It actually exposes our children to more harm & risk and does not protect them whatsoever. In all actuality, the war on drugs is nothing more than an international projection of a domestic psychosis. It is not the “great child protection act,” its actually the complete opposite.
    The lesson is clear: Drug laws do not stop people from harming themselves, but they do cause addicts to commit crimes and harm others. We need a new approach that decriminalizes the disease. We must protect society from the collateral damage of addiction and stop waging war on ourselves. We need common sense harm reduction approaches desperately. MAT (medication assisted treatment) and HAT (heroin assisted treatment) must be available options. Of course, MJ should not be a sched drug at all.
    Every human being is precious, worthy of love and belonging, and deserves opportunities to fulfill his or her potential regardless of past trauma, mental and emotional anguish, addictive behaviors or mistakes made.

    1. shryock5of6 says:

      Drug laws do not cause addicts to harm other people. They ALLOW police, judges, prosecutors, probation officers and jailers to harm drug users.

  3. Elise says:

    Methadone… the lesser of two evils sadly. I guess whatever “helps”. I would like to see more information about the additional treatment needed (CBT, etc.) in addition to the heroin substitute.

  4. shryock5of6 says:

    ” ‘This is a controlled, safe and secure environment,’ said Crittle.” Someone needs to place Simon Crittle in a safe, secure, controlled environment before he hurts himself. Maybe county jail for a month or two. Let him get back to us about how safe and secure he feels.

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