OSSIPEE — Inmates at the Carroll County Department of Corrections who are struggling with drug addiction will no longer be allowed to receive prescription medication to treat opioid dependence unless they were already taking it before being jailed.
Jail Superintendent Jason Henry said the Carroll County Commissioners voted 2-1 on Wednesday to halt his past practice of allowing drug-addicted inmates being booked into the facility to be screened by a physician to see if they meet the criteria to start Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).
Amanda Bevard, R-Ossipee, who chairs the commission, has been a vocal opponent of starting MAT for inmates who weren’t already taking an opioid dependence treatment drug when they are taken into custody.
The commission voted 2-1 on Wednesday against allowing inmates to be started on MAT while in county custody. Commissioner David Babson, R-Ossipee, supported the measure. He was the lone member of the commission to attend Tuesday’s ceremonies marking the graduation of the first participants in the county’s newly created drug court program.
Terry McCarthy, R-Conway, also opposed allowing opioid-addicted inmates to be introduced to medication assisted treatment for fear it will swap one addiction for another.
In response to a reporter’s questions about the reluctance of Bevard to allow a physician and other experts to speak about the process and benefits of MAT at a Nov. 13 meeting, Babson didn’t mince words.
“It’s the poorest example of leadership I’ve seen in 25 years. She was not going to let these people speak or give people a chance to learn. To me that’s poor leadership,” Babson said.
Jail Superintendent Henry said he feels stuck between a rock and a hard place and fears he will ultimately end up as a defendant in a lawsuit that will be filed against the county.
Moderate to severe opioid use disorder meets the criteria under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to be classified as a disability.
By law, the Americans with Disability Act requires accommodations.
Henry said the policy at his facility is to continue MAT for inmates who were taking it in the community before they were incarcerated, but also to offer it to drug addicts who are booked into the facility and, after being screened by a physician, are deemed to meet the criteria to begin taking it.
It cost the county $150 for an inmate to have an initial visit with a physician and there are additional costs for lab tests and other screenings to determine if they meet the criteria for MAT. The medication costs the county $168 per person each month, according to Henry.
The jail superintendent said Bevard’s objection to allowing inmates to start MAT isn’t cost-based, but rather her belief that the county will play a role in getting them addicted to the very medication designed to help wean them off an addictive opioid.
On Tuesday, Thomas Saujon, 35, of Effingham, told a crowded courtroom in remarks after he graduated from the intensive drug court program, that the medication Subutex helped him learn to live without illicit drugs.
His doctor he recounted, was amazed at how quickly he was able to wean off the medication an accomplishment that allowed him to help counsel other addicts.
Henry said the New Hampshire State Prison, along with the Corrections Departments in Rockingham and Strafford Counties, all have policies in place allowing inmates to be screened and started on MAT if they meet the required criteria.
“This is a vulnerable population of people and we want to be able to give them some help,” Henry said, explaining he has been before the commissioners six times regarding the MAT issue.