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Drug helps ease inmates' opioid withdrawals in Hamilton County jail

Posted: 5:03 PM, May 23, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-23 22:33:52Z

CINCINNATI -- As the opioid epidemic worses, the Hamilton County Justice Center has become the largest detox facility in the area.

Now the jail is the first in Ohio to help inmates with opioid withdrawals by using a drug to ease the symptoms. Authorities are hoping the new program will save lives.

For the last week, inmates with heroin withdrawal have been given a small strip of buprenorphine. It is also an opioid, but it helps ease and shorten symptoms. 

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil called the program "a no-brainer."

"We got to do what we've got to do to try to make a difference, to try to turn the tide here," he said Wednesday. "So I was all in favor."

The jail's health provider, Naphcare, has been working for months to change regulations in Ohio to allow buprenorphine to be offered inside jail walls. 

"Opioid withdrawal is dangerous," Naphcare CEO Bob McLane said. "It can make people sick and it can even kill people."

Already, the Talbert House operates more than 200 beds inside the jail and runs group and individual therapy. Talbert House vice president Josh Arnold said the drug is just one more step in the services they can provide.

"As opposed to individuals sitting in the Justice Center detoxing for what could be many days, this will help the individual clear their mind and get ready for treatment at the very beginning," he said.

Jailers say the program will save money, too. Last year, they made about 800 trips to a methadone clinic just with female inmates. Those trips include overtime and medical expenses. This year, they're already down.

Also, Naphcare isn't charging the country for the buprenorphine. 

"We are doing a number of things I never thought we'd do, but it's the times," Neil said.