Kenton County jail seeks to fight the opiate epidemic with 'therapeutic communities'

COVINGTON, Ky. – Kenton County is among the latest of two dozen Kentucky county jails that have started the full time “therapeutic communities” aimed at drug rehabilitation within their walls, according to the New York Times.

Unit 104 is a 70-man pod in the Kenton County Detention Center and is part of a new approach to jail created to fight an epidemic of opiate addiction, according to the Times' report.

Jail may be the last place in which to encourage or force an addict who has been locked up to seek treatment before it’s too late.

“People don’t go to treatment because they see the light,” Kevin Pangburn, director of Substance Abuse Services for the Kentucky Department of Corrections, told the Times.

With the state’s epidemic of addiction and $3 million that state legislators approved for substance-abuse treatment in 2015, Kentucky has begun an experimentation in a new way of doing treatment in jail, according to the article.

The pod is open to anyone who volunteers for it. Unit 104 offers G.E.D classes, instruction on criminal-addictive thinking, 12-step meetings, overdose-resuscitation training, physical exercise, prayer and meditation, counseling, inmate self-governance and extensive writing assignments.

After having watched pain pills and then heroin to lead to the kind of low-level felonies that sent people in and out of his jail, Terry Carl, the Kenton County jailer, questioned what form jail took, when outside treatment was unavailable.

In 2015, under the support of the Kenton County commissioners, he hired a recovering addict, Jason Merrick, to run Unit 104, with explicit purpose of treating addicts, according to the article.

The unit, at first, exhibited the same behavior as other jail units but then Merrick and inmates decided to create “Cardinal Rules” rules to govern behavior, which now leaves no routine jail behavior.

“Once people see that standard being met, then they abide by it,” Jeremy Westerman, an inmate and recovering addict who helped write the rules, said in the article. “They live up to it, and its gets rid of all the other nonsense, and you’re free to work on your problems.”

Inmates complete up to a six-month recovery regimen, with those who stay longer become peer mentors. Once inmates have left jail, they are offered help re-entering society such as a Vivitrol shot, connections to jobs, sober-living houses, 12-step meetings, recovering-addict mentors and more.

To read the full New York Times story, go here

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