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Lawmakers ponder meds to help ease withdrawal in lockups

SeattlePI.com Tuesday, 19 March 2019
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. (AP) — Laura Levine says she never smoked a cigarette or touched a drink until age 35. Then the mother of five tried heroin, and she was hooked.

After some brushes with the law — petty larceny to support her habit — she was booked into the Nassau County jail, and withdrawal started kicking in. As the nausea, shaking and sweating grew worse, she said her pleas for help were met with just laughter and indifference from guards.

"I would rather give birth to all five of my children again without medication than go through withdrawal again," said Levine, who is in recovery and now works to help others struggling with opioids.

More help for people like Levine could be on the way, as lawmakers in New York are considering a measure to make drug treatments such as methadone or Suboxone available to all prison and jail inmates struggling with opioid addiction.

States across the country are considering similar approaches amid research that shows that the drugs, along with behavior therapy, can help people with addiction reduce the withdrawal symptoms and cravings that drive many to relapse.

Federal statistics suggest more than half of all inmates in state prisons nationwide have a substance-use problem. New York officials say that percentage could be as high as 80 percent in state and local lockups, which at any given time have about 77,000 inmates.

Drug policy experts point to the success of a similar program in Rhode Island, which has seen a sharp drop in the number of former inmates who died of overdoses, from 26 in 2016 to nine last year.

Other successes have been reported in jails in Louisville, Kentucky; Sacramento, California and in Massachusetts.

"It makes no sense that people who have a public health issue don't have access to medicine," said...
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