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Program would treat addicts in prison~

Program would treat addicts in prison
By Josh O’Gorman
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | November 21,2014

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Department of Health is working on a program to allow addicts to continue to receive treatment in prison.

Barbara Cimaglio, deputy commissioner of the department’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, told legislators Thursday her office is working with the Department of Corrections to create a pilot program. It would allow an addict who receives drugs to treat opiate addiction to continue to receive those drugs while behind bars.

As of Oct. 28, almost 2,500 people receive methadone or buprenorphine from one of five treatment centers around the state. However, these people in treatment sometimes end up in jail, Cimaglio said.

“Sometimes they end up going back into the justice system for one reason or another, and they are unable to continue treatment,” she told the Health Care Oversight Committee, which includes legislators from both the House and the Senate.

Under the plan being drafted by an advisory committee under the leadership of the Department of Corrections, an inmate would continue to receive treatment for up to 90 days while locked up. The program will be tested at the South Burlington and Swanton prisons, with the possibility of expansion into Vermont’s other jails and prisons.

“We’re just getting it off the ground,” Cimaglio said.

The information came as the Health Care Oversight Committee received a briefing on the status of Act 195, which was signed into law in June and gives judges latitude in ordering treatment in lieu of incarceration for drug offenses.

The law is one of the reasons the state has seen an increase in the number of people in treatment, from about 1,750 in January to 2,488 as of the end of October.

The West Ridge Center in Rutland has seen its number of patients climb from fewer than 100 in January to just under 400 in October. BAART Behavioral Health Services in Berlin has seen the number of patients nearly double — from about 150 to just under 300 — during the same time period.

But while the number of people being treated in Vermont has increased in the last 10 months, the number of people waiting for treatment has remained steady at about 500.

T.J. Donovan, Chittenden County’s state’s attorney, told the committee his office has offered offenders treatment in lieu of jail approximately 1,500 times and has never been turned down.

“We are redefining accountability. If you have a doctor and you have a treatment plan, you have to stick to it,” he said.

However, Donovan cautioned against allowing offenders quicker access to treatment than those who have not broken the law.

“We need to be sure we do not incentivize crime by allowing these people to leapfrog people who are on the waiting list,” he said.

josh.ogorman@rutlandherald.com

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