COVID-19 stalled the expansion of medication assisted treatment into NC’s prisons, but the demand for it is just as high — if not increasing.
“We’ve got an epidemic within a pandemic,” says Kevin Mahoney with the Mountain Area Health Education Center. Social distancing, job losses and drug contamination associated with COVID-19 have all complicated local efforts to manage the impacts of opioid use.
“We’ve tried to arrest our way out of the drug epidemic for decades, and it hasn’t worked,” says Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller. Now, a new program at the Buncombe County Detention Facility is providing medication-assisted treatment to incarcerated people with substance-use disorder. Studies show MAT is an effective treatment for addiction, which can reduce recidivism and lower the risk of overdose.
During a Nov. 19 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, attorney Ron Payne said the settlement would bring the suit to an end, “hopefully in somewhat of an expeditious manner.” All six commissioners present were in favor of accepting the settlement, with Vice Chair Jasmine Beach-Ferrara absent for the vote.
As outlined in a presentation available before the meeting, Buncombe’s 26 county-owned buildings have an average age of nearly 50 years, with total maintenance costs running over $789,000 in each of the past two fiscal cycles. The county hopes to hire an outside firm to evaluate those buildings against Buncombe’s needs.
Board chair Brownie Newman, Vice Chair Jasmine Beach-Ferarra and member Amanda Edwards have placed a resolution endorsing the Sheriff’s Office’s use of MAT on the commission’s agenda for Tuesday, Aug. 20. The treatment is currently offered to the jail’s pregnant female inmates, but Buncombe officials hope to expand its availability to all incarcerated individuals.
Through medication-assisted treatment, inmates with opioid addiction could receive drugs such as naltrexone or buprenorphine, in conjunction with counseling and therapy, to help them avoid returning to dangerous substances such as heroin or fentanyl.