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Commissioners Unanimously Support New Response to Opioid Epidemic

Former inmates are 40 times more likely to overdose than citizens not involved with the justice system, according to the American Journal of Public Health. To that end, Buncombe County Commissioners unanimously approved implementing ways to treat opioid addiction at the County’s Detention Facility. “It’s time to do something different,” stated Sheriff Quentin Miller during the Board of Commissioners meeting on Aug. 20. “[Incarceration] is a time people are most sober, and it’s a chance to get to them. This is the time to do it.”

Sarah Gayton, Program Director with the Sheriff’s Office, is leading the development and implementation of the Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) program. “Addiction is a driving force which negatively impacts our community and populates the jail. Addressing addiction with an evidence based intervention such as MAT is an ethical and responsible way for the detention facility to work to reduce recidivism," noted Gayton. "The MAT program is also in alignment with 21st Century Policing principles of 'implementing solutions that produce meaningful results for the community.'”

This treatment approach combines behavioral therapy and medications as an evidence-based best practice to effectively treat opioid use disorder, reduce the risk of overdoses, reduce occurrences of relapse, and reduce the transmission of communicable diseases.

The facility has begun a medical process of screening and identifying opioid users for the purposes of educating users on overdose prevention measures and linking them to treatment resources. The next phase of the program implementation will be increasing their access to treatment and providing supportive case management both pre- and post-release. 

“MAT is lifesaving. The data is there, and the stories are there,” exclaimed Vice Chair Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. “Something that is also lifesaving is when people know they are part of a community that knows, loves, and sees them… This is one piece of the puzzle that goes into doing that.”

District 1 Commissioner Al Whitesides noted MAT at the Detention Facility will provide a resource where people are in need of it. “If we are going to keep them out [of jail], we’ve got to start with that population. It will help prevent them from going back to jail and save taxpayer dollars. If we bury our head in the sand, it’s just going to cost us more money.”

Opioid awareness of one of the Commissioners’ six strategic priorities. The County has not yet allocated revenue to the MAT program, and some of the costs will be offset by the North Carolina’s Opioid Response Funds. You can read the MAT resolution here.