Participants included researchers, leaders from state departments of corrections, professional correctional organizations, and federal agencies involved in substance use disorder treatment programs such as the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and the Interior.
Wetzel praised Governor Tom Wolf for ensuring the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections had a seat at the table at this important White House-led event. Governor Wolf has been holding roundtable discussions to talk about the importance of battling the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic in Pennsylvania and to advocate for $34 million to fight the opioid crisis in the final budget.
"The governor has established himself as a leader among governors in aggressively responding to the opioid crisis and laying out holistic solutions to address it," said Wetzel.
The Department of Corrections has moved rapidly to address the growing drug crisis affecting the Commonwealth. As part of its "Behind-the-Walls Treatment," the department is working to reduce criminal behaviors through individualized Substance Use Disorder (SUD) treatment and education for inmates to ensure successful community reintegration.
The DOC is tailoring comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment to inmates through a variety of services, including assessment, outpatient care, inpatient care and aftercare.
DOC also is conducting a pilot program using Vivitrol, a long-acting injectable form of naltrexone that blocks certain receptors to prevent a 'high" and removes the craving for drugs or alcohol.
The number of individuals entering state prisons with opioid-addiction has doubled over the past ten years, from six to twelve percent. Overall some 68 percent of inmates have substance abuse problems and more than one quarter are suffering from mental illness.
Under the Vivitrol pilot program, female inmates at SCI Muncy received an injection prior to leaving and then five subsequent injections after release.
As a result of the program's success it was expanded to include male inmates in four additional prisons.
Wetzel said there needs to be a more concerted effort to catch individuals before they end up in the criminal justice system.
"If someone comes into the emergency room or has an interaction with a police officer or is identified in school, we need to plug them into the treatment infrastructure," he said. "I think this is so different for us as a country and it signals a difference in philosophy to really focus on identifying the root cause of the crime to put someone on the path to be less likely to commit a crime."
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SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Corrections