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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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Sheriff Goes to MAT for Addicted Inmates

Sheriff Robert Nolan.

By Al Campbell

SEA ISLE CITY – When Robert Nolan was campaigning to be Cape May County sheriff, in 2017, he learned public sentiment was mounting over the opioid epidemic. At the time, the general consensus he found was “locking them all up,” Nolan told the Cape May County League of Municipalities Feb. 27.
The sheriff cited state mortality statistics from opioids that rose annually from 2015 to 2017.
Then, in 2018, those statistics became personal for Nolan. “I suffered the loss of a close family member, my only son died. He took one pill for pain, and it took his life,” said Nolan, “and I was committed at that time.” A municipal official at the meeting stopped Nolan’s speech momentarily to hug him in consolation for his loss.
“You know, God works in strange ways. You know, I think I was put here for a reason,” he said.
That new direction set him to learn what a sheriff, one of three Constitutional Officers in the county, could do to help stem even one family’s grief from drugs.
He talked to Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson, who oversaw Drug Court, and listened as the jurist recounted the problems addicts faced once they were in the court system. Cape May County’s Drug Court is presented presided over by Judge John Rauh.
Among items at the top of Sandson’s list was transportation to rehabilitation centers, most of them located in North Jersey. Often, when a bed would become available for a county addict, time was limited to get that person to the facility before it was filled be someone else.
Nolan said he then asked freeholders, who control the Sheriff’s Office budget, for additional personnel for those transports. The board agreed, said Nolan.
“We’re losing young kids, and nobody’s immune. Every family I knew, every friend, every relative had somebody in their circle that had lost someone, so I committed to him (Sandson) to do everything I could to support the drug court program,” Nolan said.
Nolan pointed to four people he knew who went through the drug court system, and “became successful citizens, working jobs and contributing to society and being proud of themselves.”
MAT Program Started
Fast forward to a program that Nolan started at the county jail Jan. 1, it’s known as M.A.T. (Medical Assistance Treatment). It is a 12-month, $300,000 program, funded in six-month segments by the state Department of Human Services (DHS), Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Freeholders, Feb. 25, authorized a contract with the state DHS for $150,000 to fund the program from Jan. 1 to June 30.
Nolan said inmates are screened for drug use when they enter the jail. If they are found to have illicit drugs in their system, and they wish to voluntarily enter the treatment program, they can be given Suboxone, methadone or Vivitrol.
Of the current 164 inmates, Nolan said 10 are being treated with Suboxone, and two each with methadone and Vivitrol. Suboxone and Vivitrol are administered in the jail. Those who receive methadone are transported to a local treatment center on specific days, the sheriff said.
Key to aiding addicted inmates is a re-intake coordinator who links the inmate with a community provider for treatment and counseling.
A peer specialist is assigned through the CARES team at Cape Regional Medical Center to follow up with them for a year, aid in finding housing, acquiring medical insurance and help with transportation.
Upon release from jail, the person is linked with that community provider. They are also given a dose of Suboxone prior to release.
They will be given a three-day script to bridge until they are able to meet that provider. The re-intake coordinator will follow up after their release to help them comply and to succeed in treatment.
Such treatment, said Nolan, does away with the “cold turkey” withdrawal symptoms that incarcerated drug users experienced before the program.
“If you’ve ever seen anybody go through withdrawal, it’s a horrible sight, it’s inhumane and there’s a whole lot more negatives to it,” Nolan told the officials.
“I still have a hole in my heart I don’t think will ever leave,” Nolan added. “I don’t want that to happen to other people, so I’m worked very, very hard on the MAT program.”
Nolan said the jail’s medical program is operated by a firm CFG that oversees medical facilities in correctional centers in the state’s 12 southern counties.

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