An innovative program to help women stay clean after being released from jail will soon be launched by the Haywood Health and Human Services Department thanks to a grant from the Haywood Healthcare Foundation.
The program will provide free Suboxone treatment to at-risk women addicted to opioids. Suboxone is a clinical drug that weans users off their pre-existing addiction, while minimizing the withdrawal symptoms.
“It reduces the cravings of opioids,” explained Patrick Johnson, Haywood Public Health Director. “We wanted to have a more direct clinical role in the opioid crisis.”
A key element of the program is connecting with women while they are still in jail, and then giving them a ride to the health department the day of their release to get enrolled in treatment.
“We will work hand-in-hand with the peer support folks inside the jail who will identify women who are candidates for the treatment,” Johnson said.
Making the health department the first stop the day of their release will hopefully be more successful than handing out a pamphlet and leaving the ball in their court to call for an appointment and find transportation.
The program has the potential to save lives, the application outlined. Opioid users who return to their former lifestyle are at a greater risk of dying from an overdose if they resume using.
“If they have detoxed in detention and go back to using, especially at their previous dosage, they are at a high risk for a lethal overdose if they go back to using when they come out,” Johnson said.
Women of child-bearing age will also be connected with family planning services.
The $40,000 grant will provide Suboxone treatment for up to 14 women for a year who otherwise lack health insurance. Johnson is already applying for grants to continue covering the program when the year of funding from the Haywood Healthcare Foundation runs out.
Johnson only knows of three other health departments in the state that provide in-house Suboxone treatment, making Haywood a cutting-edge model in the opioid battle.
There were several moving parts to get the program off the ground, including a special federal medical license to prescribe and administer Suboxone. Meridian Behavioral Health will partner the the health department to provide counseling alongside the medication therapy.
The idea first originated with a local medical practitioner.
“About a year ago a provider who lost her daughter to an opioid overdose came to me and said ‘I would like to help treat people with Suboxone,’” Johnson said.
The program is one of three in the latest round of grant funding from the Haywood Healthcare Foundation that targets the opioid crisis by bringing resources and support directly to the at-risk population.
A grant was also given to The Haywood Pathways Center to help people in jail come up with a plan to rebuild their lives once they get out. The grant will partially fund two peer support specialists who work inside the jail to lay the groundwork for entering the Pathways recovery program upon their release.
“If have a plan, when they get to their release date they have a better chance of not just going back to where they were,” said Mandy Haithcox, executive director of Pathways.
While Pathways is often labeled as a homeless shelter, its larger mission is to provide life-skills training and counseling to those wanting to re-enter society.
The Pathways Center is not merely a place for people to crash when getting out of jail, but for those serious about embarking on a life transformation.
“We have beds saved for people coming directly out of jail who have been working our peer support specialists and understand what they are getting themselves into,” Haithcox said.
A third grant went to the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition to support its work with people suffering from substance abuse.