Summit County jail rolls out new tools for treating opioid addiction, data sharing |

Summit County jail rolls out new tools for treating opioid addiction, data sharing

One of the holding cells at the Summit County Detention Facility in Breckenridge.
Photo by Hugh Carey / Summit Daily archive

BRECKENRIDGE — Officials are looking to improve treatment and resources for individuals dealing with substance use disorders at the Summit County Detentions Facility.

Along with the recent addition of the jail’s mental health navigator position — meant to help facilitate mental health and substance use treatments for incarcerated individuals while in custody and after release — the county also has launched a number of other programs to help inmates combat substance abuse issues.

Last month, Summit County was awarded a $60,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health to fund a new medication-assisted treatment program in the jail. The program is aimed primarily at individuals dealing with opioid use disorder, and will provide help to relieve withdrawal symptoms and chemical imbalances in the body for those who screen positive for addiction medications like methadone or naltrexone. As part of the program, patients receiving medication also will take part in counseling and behavioral therapy meant to provide a more holistic treatment than medication alone can achieve.

“We’ve been talking about this forever,” Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “I’ve asked my nursing staff to ask people in the jail about it, and I walk around the jail talking to people. It’s probably the majority of our daily jail population that’s using some sort of opioid. … I think these new programs will be tools that have the potential to have a huge community impact. We want to get people sober before they walk out the door.”

Medication-assisted treatment, which is widely held as a gold standard for opioid use treatment, has been clinically proven to help reduce opiate use, improve patient survival and increase retention in treatment, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The new program is set to start this week, and the jail’s mental health navigator Sylvia Simms said there already are several individuals at the jail anxious to give it a try.

“For the MAT program we’ve identified seven inmates that are already interested,” Simms said. “Our goal is to get them straight, keep them in treatment and get them ready for life outside. The need is big, and I’m sure there will be a lot of people interested.”

In addition to the medication-assisted treatment initiative, the jail is beginning a new Narcan program for recovering addicts leaving the jail. Narcan is a nasal spray containing a drug called naloxone, which can counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. While law enforcement and emergency medical personnel in the county already carry the drug, the new program will put Narcan in the hands of people leaving the jail.

FitzSimons called the strategy another “spoke in the wheel” in ongoing efforts to combat the nationwide opioid crisis.

“If we know you have an opioid problem, because you’ve disclosed that, in your property bag on the way out, we’re going to give you some Narcan to take with you,” FitzSimons said. “Say you go outside the jail and decide to use again, and you have that Narcan, and it saves your life. That might be the time you get sober. It’s groundbreaking and progressive.

“Not only is it preventing overdose deaths, but it’s also in hopes that it would be your last time getting loaded. Maybe this will not only save your life, but also get you sober and really change your life. If you can give someone one more opportunity, why wouldn’t you? You never know what it is that’s going to get somebody sober. There’s no one thing, no magic, silver bullet.”

Finally, the jail is partnering with the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health and the state’s health information exchange networks, CORHIO and Quality Health Network, to bring new data sharing capabilities to the county.

The program, formed by the passage of the Medication Consistency bill in 2017, will allow the jail to access clinical data on inmates who have received treatment while incarcerated in a different facility. In other words, once a person is booked into the jail, officials will be able to access data related to the individuals’ former treatments and medications with hopes of creating more consistency in care.

“If someone comes in with physical or mental issues, we have no idea what medications or treatments they’ve been on,” FitzSimons said. “Our nursing staff has the ability to look up this person, see what jails they’ve been to and what medications they’ve been prescribed. It cuts out the guess work.”

Camille Harding, a licensed professional counselor and division director for Community Behavioral Health at the Office of Behavioral Health, said the Summit County jail is one of 10 facilities that will be part of the program’s pilot, with hopes it will grow over the coming years. As part of the initiative, the department also has established a medication formulary — largely dealing with psychiatric medications — listing details on recommended drugs the jail should be stocking and will facilitate discounts on medications for the facilities along with other services.

“I think there’s a lot of innovative work going on,” Harding said. “We are pretty excited to get it up and running and start getting data back. We have some county jails up and running already and accessing the system consistently. We know they’re using this tool, and we’re excited to see what kind of feedback we get.”

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