The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Safety are partnering to create a new medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program to reduce the overdose-related deaths of people with an opioid disorder who are re-entering their communities upon leaving prison.
“We want to support our citizens who are transitioning back to their communities and the workforce to have the best chance for recovery,” said DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D. “We are pleased to partner with Secretary Hooks and his team at DPS to launch this program during Reentry Week.”
“Formerly incarcerated individuals face numerous challenges that include finding work, housing, healthcare, and transportation, which can lead to recidivism, health, safety and social concerns,” added Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks. “Federal, state, and local leaders recognize these challenges and are working to remove barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated people from pursuing healthy and productive lives when they return to communities after serving time.”
A recent UNC study found that formerly incarcerated people are 40 times more likely to die from an opioid overdose than other North Carolinians. Additionally, they were found to be 74 times more likely to die from a heroin overdose. Risk for overdose is most likely in the first two weeks following their release.
The program will be piloted at the NC Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh, Wake Correctional Center in Raleigh and Orange Correctional Center in Hillsborough.
This pilot program will be funded by the State Opioid Response grant recently awarded to NC DHHS by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The total amount being spent on the pilot program is $531,562.
“Opioid use disorder is a chronic disease for which the standard-of-care is medication-assisted treatment,” said N.C. DHHS Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Kody Kinsley. “This treatment works, and we believe our joint efforts will save lives and help our returning citizens get a start on a new path in their lives.”
Pilot program participants will receive opioid use disorder educational materials and counseling. Additionally, they will receive an injection of naltrexone, the extended-release medication which blocks the effect of opioids for up to 30 days, reducing the possibility of an opioid overdose. As participants transition, they will also receive naloxone kits that reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Most importantly, participants will be referred for follow up care with UNC Family Medicine’s Formerly Incarcerated Transition (FIT) program. The FIT program will provide peer and other recovery supports and connect participants with health services so that they can continue treatment.
Turning the tide on the opioid crisis is one of the primary goals of DHHS. This pilot program aligns with many of the approaches detailed in the NC Opioid Action Plan, which lays out key strategies, such as coordination of infrastructure, reduction of oversupply of prescription opioids and increasing community awareness, to address the burden of the opioid crisis in North Carolina.