Montgomery County Helps Inmates with Addiction


n 2017, the Journal Review tackled the topic of heroin addiction in Montgomery County, Indiana, in a series of articles. The first, titled County in Crisis, featured a photo of a billboard with these words: “Montgomery County ranked 9 of 92 most at-risk population for opioid abuse.”

The Opioid Crisis in Montgomery County

Opioids are highly addictive narcotics that create feelings of euphoria. At the time of the first Journal and Review article, the opioid epidemic was being discussed by politicians, law enforcement and emergency personnel. Fatal heroin overdoses, which were regular occurrences across the county, topped the list of concerns, but other opioids were also being abused. Fentanyl, morphine and hydrocodone, all opiates, also presented a danger.

Samantha Swearingen, the health education director at the community health department and a member of the drug task force, emphasized the need for organizations to join hands in their effort to educate the public. Swearingen blamed heroin’s affordability when compared to other drugs and its easy access for its widespread use.

In a follow-up of the story, law enforcement officers said more of their time and resources were being used to fight opioid use despite bigger budgets and more officers. Because dealers come in and out of the county at all hours of the day and night, officers have had trouble tracking them. Buyers and sellers know that frequent sales of small quantities make punishment more difficult.

The city called on residents to report suspected drug activity and guaranteed that their identities would not be identified. They could turn in information through anonymous email, submit it on the department’s website Tip Line or call the department.

Drug Reversal in Montgomery County

In some locations around the country, medical and emergency personnel give drugs like Evzio and Narcan to overdose victims to counteract heroin’s effects and prevent them from dying. In 2017, Montgomery County police departments did not carry reversal drugs and said they should be administered by medical personnel, paramedics or EMTs, not law enforcement personnel.

County paramedics pointed out that overdose reversal drugs do not always guarantee that a person will be resuscitated, and bigger doses may be needed to do the job if it is used more than once. They also expressed concern that addicts might be more prone to taking an opioid overdose if they relied on reversal drugs to save their lives.

The opioid crisis has also led to crowded jail cells. Darren Foreman, the Montgomery County coroner, and a paramedic, said heroin overdoses had multiplied in two years from one or two per week to an average of five. When a bad batch of heroin hit the streets, Foreman reportedly saw up to 10 overdoses in one week.

Addicts Bridge Age and Socioeconomic Groups

According to Foreman, heroin use crosses the boundaries from the richest to the poorest citizens of Montgomery County. As coroner, he has visited homes of senior residents and young teenagers alike who died from an overdose. In his opinion, opioids exceed methamphetamines in the danger they pose to users. The crisis is not only taking lives: It is also creating the need for increased taxes and increasing crime rates.

Grant for Addicted Inmates in Montgomery County

In 2019, the Indiana Drug Enforcement Association offered a $43,000 grant to help Montgomery County start a Jail Chemical Addiction Program. The jail will work with Valley Oaks Health and one of their therapists to offer the services to inmates.

Montgomery County Sheriff Ryan Needham hopes the program will break the cycle of dependency and destructive behavior that addicts face as they cycle in and out of jail. Judge Heather Barajas says the inmates will be in a “highly structured, closely monitored program where they will be segregated from the general jail population.”

The grant, made up of seed money that will cover the program for one year, will provide a new source of hope for the inmates and the county. The program has been successfully used in other parts of Indiana, and officials hope that it will sow the seeds of support needed to get the county’s ongoing attention.

Sheriff Needham estimates than 8 of every 10 inmates in the county jail face drug-related charges. He hopes the program will treat them, help them get straightened out and give them a fresh start. The Jail Chemical Addiction Program is a 90-day, voluntary program that will begin in Montgomery County Jail by the first of March in 2019.

Inmates in the program will live in pods isolated from inmates not in the program while they complete the required steps. They will have a structured schedule that includes time for housework, homework, group and individual therapy, spirituality and recreation. Officials say that inmates who finish the program will move to transitional housing or a court-approved treatment program.

Montgomery is the most recent county to introduce the program, but Dearborn andBoone’se counties were the first to use it. Kosciusko and Shelby counties later received JCAP grants from the Attorney General’s office. Dearborn says the program reduced the number of repeat defenders by 50 percent.

How the Jail Chemical Addictions Program Works<?h3>

The successful JCAP program in Dearborn County operates on the principle that early, comprehensive treatment of chemical dependency helps addicts improve emotional, social, spiritual and family ties through a highly structured process in a special setting. It also aims to reduce the chances of relapse and criminal activity after release from jail.

The program hopes to single out inmates who have ongoing issues with chemical dependency, provide counseling and treatment and connect them with supportive resources on the outside. Inmates must need help and want to get clean. JCAP provides no external incentives for participation.

Each program consists of a program director and staff. Disciplines include cognitive behavioral training based on the treatment of chemically dependent inmates. At the heart is a core system called Strategies for Self-Improvement and Change. Other services include groups that teach concepts like job readiness, life skills and self-exploration. During the last two weeks of the program, inmates get familiar with helpful outside connections and prepare for their release.

One of the pods that inmates live in during the three-month treatment in Dearborn consists of eight compartments, each with two beds for men. Pods for women have four cells with two beds. This allows the facility to house up to 16 men and 8 women at one time.

A 72 Percent Success Rate in Morgan County

Another Indiana treatment success story came from TV station WTHR in Morgan County. The county’s recovery program for drug addicts is one of the most effective in the state.

A woman who lost her friends and family, and almost her life, to drugs said two years later, “I was a totally different person back then. Getting arrested and coming to jail saved my life.” Her dependency started with alcohol and marijuana in high school and spread to cocaine and ecstasy during her college years. Later, her life centered around meth and prescription pills, and her drug use overshadowed her home life and relationships.

It all changed when she ended up in the Morgan County Jail after being convicted of a felony. There, she went through a grant-funded program called Residential Substance Abuse Program. Described as “intense behavioral counseling,” the treatment gives no one an early release for their participation. However, 100 inmates volunteer to go through it every year.

Jail officials estimate that up to 80 percent of those incarcerated at the county jail want to take part in the program. When a news reporter asked who was happy to be in the treatment program, all of them raised their hands. Most of the participants credit the counseling for saving their lives, and the staff reports a 72 percent success rate. When they leave, participants stay out of jail and free of crime.

Inmates recover from chemical dependency and learn how to survive without drugs. They get emotional and spiritual support, and they learn to handle conflict, parent their children and get a job. Counseling centers on changing attitudes, actions, thoughts and character flaws while finding ways to live without drugs.

A detective-turned-re-entry officer, Rick Lang says his job is to find a place for participants to live and work when they get out of jail. With fewer victims, lower crime rates and newly released individuals working and paying taxes, everybody wins.

A bedrock of the program is its foundation group, a circle of members that includes former addicts who help enrollees and graduates who return to volunteer and offer support in the jail and after inmates leave. At least one graduate is training to be an addiction counselor.

Facts About the Opioid Crisis

People take opioids because they relieve pain and produce euphoric highs, but the drugs are deadly. The more a person takes, the more they crave, and the need for a higher dose grows with each use. Because these drugs affect the reward center of the brain, narcotics are extremely addictive. Statistics show its toll on the country:

  • In 2017, over 72,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses. Of those, almost 50,000 involved opioids.
  • Over 2 million people in the United States are chemically dependent on street drugs or prescription pills.
  • In 2016 and 2017, over 130 people died every day from opioid overdoses.
  • Doctors wrote 282 million prescriptions for opioids in 2012, an increase from 112 million in 1992.
  • From 2007 until 2016, hydrocodone was the opioid doctors prescribed most. The second was oxycodone.
  • In 2015, 99.7 percent of the global consumption of hydrocodone occurred in the U.S.
  • In 2013, opioid addiction and overdose cost $78.5 billion.

The opioid crisis has claimed a record number of lives through overdoses, almost 64,000 in 2016. At least 66 percent of the drug-related deaths, a 20 percent increase from the year before, resulted from opioid use. Richard Rosenfeld, a researcher at the University of Missouri, thinks this comes from an increase in illegal drug use.

Until 2015, prescription pain pills caused more opioid overdoses than street drugs, but that has changed. As the current market for illicit drugs grows larger, so do the underground tactics to acquire them, thus increasing the number of drug-related homicides resulting from violent drug transactions.

The national murder rate has also been increasing since 2015. Although theories about the rise in homicides vary, one thing remains clear: Opioids have led to a national crisis as overdoses and crimes increase. Starting in the 1970s, the pendulum moved toward more punitive than therapeutic methods as a way of combating the problem, but that may be changing. If recovery programs in jail cells stop inmates from returning to society with a chemical dependency or committing crimes that involve illicit drugs, we may be entering a new era of drug treatment in the U.S.