By | August 9, 2017



RUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C.  — Turn on the news or pick up a newspaper and you’re sure to see stories lamenting the pervasive devastation of the opioid epidemic in America—and rightfully so. More Americans die each year from opioid related overdoses than from vehicle crashes. The pain of this issue hits home in Rutherford County. Rutherford has one of North Carolina’s highest unintentional fatal overdose rates linked to opioids, a class of drugs which includes prescription medications such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percoset, and other painkillers as well as illicit street drugs such as heroin. From 1999 through 2016 more than one hundred sixty Rutherford County residents have died from unintentional opioid related overdoses. This number doesn’t take into account the number of hospitalizations, emergency department visits, or number of people resuscitated with the overdose reversal drug, Naloxone.

A team of local stakeholders including the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, Family Preservation Services, United Way of Rutherford County, and District Attorney Ted Bell worked together to create the new program. It will provide Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), behavioral therapy, and wraparound services for Rutherford County Jail inmates who are addicted to opioids. This is a pilot program and the team is excited to provide MAT in a setting where traditionally those who need treatment services become ineligible for funding to receive them. RHI Legacy Foundation is providing funding for this pilot program.

Sheriff Chris Francis

The program features a one year continuum of care that utilizes MAT and individual or group therapy during the incarceration period. Upon reentry to the community, participants will receive MAT, Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient treatment, peer support services, and linkages to medical care as well as job skills and educational support services. This treatment and reentry program is a first of its kind in Rutherford County and in the Western Region of North Carolina. We’ve not found a comparable program being offered anywhere else in the state within the county jail systems.

“I am excited to implement this new program in my jail,” Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis said. “I understand enforcement is extremely important but education and treatment along with enforcement gives much better results. I also believe that if you show someone a new way they can have a new truth and thus a new life.”

Family Preservation Services Paula Bynnom

Family Preservation Services will provide the treatment in the jail and ensure a seamless transition to community-based services when an inmate is released. This program utilizes Vivitrol (naltroxene), a medication that blocks opiate cravings, in conjunction with behavioral therapy. The medication is given via a monthly injection administered by trained medical staff. Behavioral therapy/counseling is provided by licensed treatment staff.

While in jail, the cost of the medication and therapy is covered by grant funding provided by RHI Legacy Foundation. The participants do not pay any out of pocket costs for MAT while in jail. Medicaid or other state funds will be accessible to participants to cover the cost upon re-entry to the community setting. RHI Legacy Foundation felt this was a project that can have widespread impact on the community—for individuals, families, and all sectors of the community. Many local systems are feeling the strain of increased overdoses, including law enforcement and other first responder agencies, the hospital emergency department, and the Department of Social Services.

“We met with the partner agencies about the program,” Jill Miracle, Community Impact Director, RHI Legacy Foundation said. “After we understood how the program could impact residents of our county, our Foundation’s Board of Trustees voted to approve funding for the program. It was especially gratifying to see how the community partners would collaborate to provide treatment. We appreciate the group bringing a potential pilot program to our attention and giving us the opportunity to make a financial investment in the program. If it is successful, it has the potential to be replicated for other people in our community dealing with addictions.”

Multiple opioid related initiatives the stakeholders have worked on together were initially launched with the assistance of the United States Attorney’s Office of the Western District of North Carolina. Inviting U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose to speak at the program launch is a natural trajectory of that long-standing collaboration.

Suzanne Porter, Ted Bell, Ricky McKinny

The local stakeholders in the project have been working on this program since late 2016 and are pleased to reach the implementation stage.

“We started discussing gaps in the system, particularly as it relates to opioid use disorder,” Suzanne Porter, Executive Director of United Way of Rutherford County said. “We wanted to find a way to reach more people when they’re most receptive to starting treatment– this would clearly be the case for many who are incarcerated and want help. Many of us know firsthand the pain of losing a loved one to an overdose. We want to help break the cycle of addiction and prevent more families from feeling that pain and loss.”

Applicants will be carefully screened and selected. Applicants must consent to participate and consent to undergoing the initial comprehensive clinical assessment conducted by Family Preservation Services.

The new pilot program to fight the opioid epidemic began Tuesday with their first client at the Rutherford County jail.

“Opioid addiction affects more than simply the person addicted,” Francis said. “Credit card and check fraud, breaking and enterings, larcenies, and domestic violence are often related to opioid addiction. The person’s friends, family, and the entire community are all affected.”

Porter said the local stakeholders in this project have worked on it since 2016.

“We are pleased to reach the implementation stage. We started discussing gaps in the system, particularly as it relates to opioid use disorder,” she said. We wanted to find a way to reach more people when they’re most receptive to starting treatment. This would clearly be the case for many who are incarcerated and want help.”

“Many of us know firsthand the pain of losing a loved one to an overdose,” Porter continued. “We want to help break the cycle of addiction and prevent more families from feeling that pain and loss.”

Lt. LydiaWaddell

Lt. Lydia Waddell, jail administrator, offered her support for the new program. While in jail, the cost of medication and therapy is covered by the grant funding. The participants do not pay any out of pocket costs for MAT while in jail. Medicaid or other state funds will be accessible to participants to cover the cost upon release from incarceration.

“We see people that are homeless that have no jobs, that have lost everything. They’ve lost their kids. They’re just trying to get some help and we just start building that person up,” said Paula Bynnom of Family Preservation Services.  Bynnom’s hoping that anyone who joins the program will be able to make the necessary changes in their lives.

originally published 8-9-2017