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State One of Eight Selected by NGA to Develop Opioid Treatment for Inmates

North Carolina is one of only eight states nationwide selected to participate in a learning lab to find better ways to fight opioid addiction among prison inmates, Governor Roy Cooper announced today.

The National Governors Association selected North Carolina to participate in the effort along with Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington. Through the learning lab, North Carolina and the other participating states will develop and execute six-month strategic action plans to treat the epidemic of opioid addiction in prisons. The plans will include steps for creating policy and aligning programs across relevant agencies and reflect how new strategies fit within states’ larger efforts to respond to opioid misuse.

“Opioid abuse afflicts people from all walks of life, including those behind bars,” Gov. Cooper said. “Finding innovative ways to treat opioid addiction in prison can lead to more productive lives for ex-inmates, better treatment options for other North Carolinians who suffer from addiction, and safer and healthier communities for all of us.”

Governor Cooper’s 2017-2018 budget proposal includes more than $12 million in community mental health funding to address the opioid crisis. This will provide services including individual and group therapy, coupled with medications, to serve approximately 2,500 individuals statewide. It also includes $2 million for local law enforcement efforts to fight opioid abuse.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 65 percent of the U.S. prison population in 2010 met the medical criteria for drug or alcohol addiction, but fewer than 11 percent received treatment. In North Carolina during the same time, 63 percent of inmates entering prison needed substance abuse treatment. But of those who exited North Carolina prisons the same year, only 15 percent completed substance abuse treatment while incarcerated.

During the learning lab project, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices will coordinate meetings, conference calls and webinars among the states and provide technical assistance to the governors’ staff and state officials on best practices for opioid use disorder treatment for the inmate population.

“The abuse and misuse of opioids has reached critical levels in North Carolina and has greatly impacted the justice-involved population of our state,” said Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks. “Medication-assisted treatment and counseling for this population must be explored as a potentially viable approach to addressing this epidemic. Being part of this learning lab will give us strategies to help these addicted offenders, and society as a whole.”

Many states are piloting programs using extended-release injectable naltrexone, a monthly injection that blocks the effects of opioids while reducing cravings, and exploring other treatment and rehabilitation practices.

North Carolina’s Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice is piloting two new medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and counseling programs. One involves a three-year federal grant to pilot a MAT program in two counties for selected offenders on probation and post-release supervision. The other provides an additional comprehensive MAT program for incarcerated pregnant women and continues for at least 12 weeks as the women re-integrate into society.

Helping inmates overcome opioid addiction while incarcerated or under post-release supervision improves their chances of becoming productive members of society, and reduces the risk that they will re-offend and wind up back behind bars, North Carolina prison officials say.

North Carolina will have the opportunity to learn from Massachusetts, which has implemented innovative models of providing opioid use disorder treatment to inmate populations via drug courts and the correctional system. North Carolina will also learn about residential substance abuse treatment programs and naltrexone (brand name: Vivitrol) injection programs at both the state and county levels, as well as how such programs operate with a network of aftercare providers and recovery support navigators within communities.

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