In response to a growing number of people with drug addictions ending up at the jail, county personnel have established a new program to provide methadone treatments for inmates with opioid addictions.
The program was created through a collaboration between the Santa Cruz County Detention Center and jail district, and Community Medical Services, a local provider of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction.
“We’re seeing that more of our general population has become more dependent on this program,” Jail Commander Raoul Rodriguez told the NI on Wednesday. “This is a methadone program and it helps to keep our inmates from possibly going through withdrawals, which could lead to possible death.”
Methadone is itself an opioid, and is used as a medication to treat addiction due to its ability to reduce opioid craving and withdrawal, and to blunt or block the effects of opioids, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“There’s a misconception – methadone does not get you high. It allows you to not be sick,” Keith Jeffery, CMS’s clinic manager in Nogales, told the NI for a story last year.
Rodriguez said that the first methadone treatment at the county jail began earlier this year in March, when Presiding Judge Thomas Fink ordered the jail to provide those services for a pregnant inmate with opioid dependency who was sentenced to jail time.
After that, Rodriguez said, Deputy County Attorney Kimberly Hunley took the initiative to continue working with CMS and establish a program for other inmates who needed those services.
On Wednesday afternoon, 16 of 57 inmates at the county jail were undergoing the methadone treatment.
“Right now, we’re offering it to all our inmates that meet the minimum requirements,” Rodriguez said.
According to the agreement, CMS personnel deliver the medication once a week. From there, Rodriguez said, medical staff with the County Health Services Department administer the treatment for the inmates.
He added that the jail had medical staff on site to provide any services needed to ensure the inmates’ safety while they begin and continue their treatments.
It was not immediately clear how the expenses for the treatments are covered, but Health Service Director Jeff Terrell told the County Board of Supervisors in a memo that the program brought no financial implications for the county.
‘Not a punishment’
Judge Fink noted the new program during a sentencing hearing on Monday, where he sentenced a Rio Rico man to 120 days in jail and three years of intensive supervised probation for a pair of convictions related to his heroin addiction.
“I’m going to give you some time in jail… not as a punishment, but because I think it’s the best thing we can do for you right now,” Fink said, confirming that the in-custody defendant was already receiving methadone treatment at the detention center.
“I want you to have an opportunity, when you get back on probation, to have the best possible option to succeed,” Fink said. “And I think the way to do that is to give you some time in jail to clear yourself out as much as possible from these drugs.”
The creation of the methadone program at the jail comes as the county faces a potential lawsuit from the family of an inmate who died while in custody earlier this year.
According to a notice of intent to file claim provided to the NI by the lawyer for the family of Francisco Beltran, a 48-year-old Nogalian who died at the jail on Jan. 5, Beltran became ill shortly after he was booked into the jail the day before. He told staff he was suffering heroin withdrawal and needed to go to the hospital. Instead, he died in his cell.
An autopsy reportedly found the cause of death to be methamphetamine intoxication. However, according to the notice of claim, an expert hired by Beltran’s family believed that he died from “severe, untreated opioid withdrawal.”