Opioid addicts get second chance in Denver Jail

DENVER - The spread of the opioid epidemic isn’t slowing down and often leads those caught up in it behind bars. 

The City and County of Denver announced Thursday that opioid-dependent detainees at the Denver Jail will have the option to seek treatment.

Inmates can undergo methadone treatment in a controlled environment under a new program made available to participants in drug court who fail to comply with court orders.

Authorities will give inmates who participate in the methadone treatment program the option of having their sentences reduced or serving out their drug conviction.

Probation officers will check to see if the inmates have any warrants or pending cases that might interfere with the participant’s ability to undergo methadone treatment. Only two inmates per week will be allowed to participate.

The program will also continue to help those who leave jail by providing them with a volunteer from Denver Health to maintain the methadone treatment.

City officials hope the program, a joint intuitive between several city agencies, will help those caught up in the opioid addiction epidemic to re-enter the community and rebuild their lives.

Several studies, including one from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, shows individuals who receive treatment for their opioid addiction are less likely to commit a crime or return to jail.

The methadone program is being paid for by existing funds, grants, and Medicaid, according to a news release. An additional $16,000 in new funds will be used for necessary medical check-ups and peer support.

Opioid withdrawal behind bars a growing problem

Jails across the country and in Colorado are increasingly dealing with inmates struggling with opioid withdrawal. There has been a half-dozen deaths nationwide during the last two years involving jail heroin withdrawal, and advocates fear the number will grow given the nation's heroin crisis. 

A federal lawsuit was filed earlier this year against Adams County accusing jailers and nurses of failing to provide intravenous fluids to save the life of Tyler Tabor, a jail inmate.

Tabor was suffering dehydration and other symptoms of opiate withdrawal while in the Adams County Detention Facility on two misdemeanor arrest warrants in May 2015.

Tabor died after his family says he suffered through three days of withdrawal symptoms without proper medical care inside the jail.

Other withdrawal deaths have been reported at jails around the country:

  • In Oregon, a 26-year-old woman wrote increasingly dire notes to jail staff begging for help before she died after six days behind bars in 2014, The Oregonian reported.
  • Near Detroit, a 32-year-old man lost 50 pounds during a monthlong stay in 2014 as he struggled to withdraw from methadone, opioids and the anti-anxiety drug benzodiazepine. A jail video shows him lying naked on a stone floor during what his family's lawsuit called his slow, painful death.

The Douglas County Jail told Denver7 in July they deal with inmates struggling with withdrawal on a daily basis. Jail officials began to put in new protocols to better treat opioid withdrawal symptoms and prevent deaths inside the jail.

Nursing staff is now allowed to give inmates pain medication they can't get addicted to, along with better anti-nausea medicine.

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