Maryland Inmates Will Soon Learn How To Administer Naloxone

By McCarton Ackerman 12/29/16

About 300 inmates will be trained on how to administer naloxone beginning in January.

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Inmates throughout Maryland will soon be able to take a proactive approach in potentially saving lives by learning how to administer the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone.

The Baltimore Sun reported that inmates who have completed their sentences in prisons throughout five counties, including Baltimore, will receive naloxone kits before leaving. Health officials are now spending about $150,000 annually to ensure this happens. Giving inmates access to naloxone upon finishing their sentence was among the recommendations made last year by the state’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force. A pilot program through the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene already launched in Southern Maryland jails earlier this year.

Health officials also reported that about 300 Baltimore County inmates will be trained on how to administer naloxone beginning in January. Calvert County has already trained more than 230 inmates on how to use naloxone kits through the pilot program.

"We're trying to make sure that the naloxone is in their hands when they leave," said Mary Viggiani, a program manager with the Baltimore County health department. "A very high percentage of people incarcerated are substance users." Health officials also noted that incarcerated people are particularly susceptible to overdoses since their tolerance has dropped while behind bars from not having access to these drugs.

The program is open to all inmates, although those with sentences longer than 30 days are automatically enrolled in the training. Dr. Larry Polsky, health officer for Calvert County, said that 60% of inmates at the local detention center within the past six months had a history of using opioids.

But while the program hasn’t received any pushback, some wonder if the focus should be on naloxone when it comes to drug treatment. Mike Gimbel, former director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse and now a private consultant, believes that naloxone is an essential tool, but isn’t going to lower addiction rates. He was a former heroin user himself before getting sober over 40 years ago.

“Narcan does not change the behavior of a drug addict. It does not get to the root cause of why they're using drugs,” said Gimbel. Naloxone saves lives, but "until we beef up the treatment system, having Narcan is a temporary solution at best," he added.

Maryland’s focus on addiction recovery for inmates also includes giving them access to Vivitrol. The drug is injected monthly and can cost anywhere from $800-1,500 per shot, but a grant of more than $50,000 in June 2014 provided a healthy supply of the drug to eight county jails throughout Maryland.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.