Ben Deeb didn’t get the treatment he needed for his substance use disorder (SUD) while he was an inmate at the Saratoga County (New York) Correctional Facility. There was no medication assisted treatment (MAT) program when he was there in 2017.
Today, that’s no longer the case. The Saratoga County jail unveiled its MAT program for inmates in September 2019.
The best part — Deeb is now a certified peer recovery advocate, and the former inmate of the Saratoga County jail provides current inmates there with SUD treatment.
“Six months after I walked out, I was back meeting with inmates to help them with their recovery,” said Deeb, who developed the idea for the MAT program in response to the absence of services, then was hired to run it. “The approach used to be to house and punish. But that’s like taking someone off their diabetes medication or heart medicine. Now we’re trying to educate and rehabilitate. The whole culture has changed in this county.”
The program can accommodate up to 60 of the jail’s 178 inmates at a time. By providing MAT and extensive peer support, the program helps inmates treat their SUD during incarceration and equips them with resources they need over the long term to prevent recurrence of symptoms, Deeb said. Inmates have access to suboxone, methadone and naltrexone. They also have access to counseling services, mental health professionals and other resources.
“We are in essence running a jail-based treatment center,” Deeb said. “We also have an extensive re-entry plan to help people when they leave the jail. Everybody leaving has a medical appointment if necessary. We give everyone who leaves Narcan, test strips, a 30-day supply of their medication. I want them to succeed in life.”
The program also reduces recidivism. Since the program started in 2019, the recidivism rate in Saratoga County has held steady at 16% in the first year following release, well below the national average of 45%.
While September is Recovery Month, it’s important to highlight successful programs like the one in Saratoga County and the perseverance of people like Deeb, who also works at Healing Springs Recovery and Outreach Center supervising and training peers year-round.
People who are incarcerated shouldn’t also be sentenced to face a substance use challenge without help. Providing MAT for the justice-involved is an effective, humane way to treat SUD and prevent overdose deaths. Research has found that opioid overdose is the leading cause of death among people released from correctional institutions. During the first two weeks of their release, people released from prison are 129 times more likely than the general population to die of a drug overdose.
“We know incarceration is not the way to treat substance use disorder, and we must do better to treat those who are incarcerated with care and dignity and provide the supports they need in order to transition successfully back into society post release,” said Cortney Lovell, director, Practice Improvement and Consulting, for the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
Earlier this year, 31 state attorneys general urged Congress to increase access to substance use disorder treatment for incarcerated people. They’re pushing for lawmakers to pass the Due Process Continuity of Care Act and the Reentry Act, which would expand Medicaid access for incarcerated people.
The Due Process Continuity of Care Act (H.R. 3074/S. 971) allows Medicaid payment for medical services furnished to incarcerated individuals prior to adjudication, and the Reentry Act (H.R. 2400/S. 1165) allows Medicaid payment for medical services furnished to an incarcerated individual during the 30-day period preceding the individual’s release. Equipping individuals with timely access to substance use, mental health and other health-related services before release will facilitate the transition to care necessary to break the cycle of recidivism and prevent death and other harms.
The National Council is urging Congress to pass the Reentry Act and the Due Process Continuity of Care Act. We will remind lawmakers during Hill Day on Oct. 18 just how important those two bills are as we search for ways to help those with an SUD and reduce overdose deaths.
MAT for the justice-involved is about helping a vulnerable population have access to people and resources to overcome a substance use challenge. Fortunately, an increasing number of correctional facilities are unveiling evidence-based treatment for SUD. But we know they can’t do it alone.
The National Council is helping them, and we’ve just completed updating many resources for correctional facilities, including Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Opioid Use Disorder in Jails and Prisons: A Planning and Implementation Toolkit, Overdose Prevention and Response in Community Corrections: Self-paced Courses and Overdose Prevention and Response in Community Corrections: An Environmental Scan. For more information about our work on this important issue, check out the National Council’s Recovery Month 2023 resources and sign up for our newsletters.
(he/him/his) President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing