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Addiction behind bars nears 65% of population, federal agency says

Monitor of inmates in a pod. (Screenshot of video 7.6.22 WICD){p}{/p}
Monitor of inmates in a pod. (Screenshot of video 7.6.22 WICD)

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The opioid crisis has touched people from all walks of life, but it's a serious issue behind bars and is often the reason inmates landed there in the first place.

“I think we get a lot of people at the detention center at the depth of their addiction. And I think sometimes the addiction itself leads to the behaviors that bring them to the detention center,” said Greg Williams Jail Administrator, Oklahoma County Detention Center.

Addiction behind bars is nothing new.

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates 65% of the U.S. prison population has an active substance abuse disorder, but the rapid rise in one particular drug has made the situation in jails even worse: fentanyl.

“Almost all the drugs that we find are laced with fentanyl. Whether it's a pill or marijuana or tobacco. Just about every piece of contraband we find recently has been laced with fentanyl,” said Williams

Two inmates at the Oklahoma County Jail have died this year due to fentanyl overdoses. While the jail has upped its searches, added a body scanner, and issued educational materials to inmates, stopping the flow of drugs into prisons remains a major challenge.

“Attorneys, and police officers, staff, volunteers, contracted staff. So there's a lot of movement of people and supplies and mail and boxes and trash and just a lot of things coming from the detention center,” said Williams.

Williams says cutting off the need for drugs is the best solution, but treatment options behind bars can be limited.

“Most prisons cannot afford to offer MAT programs or vivitrol or suboxone treatment, they cannot afford to offer these treatments to this population,” said Toni Williams, a nurse practitioner with Landmark Recovery.

That's where groups like Landmark Recovery come in.

“We partner with probation officers, we partner with drug courts, to provide treatment services to individuals once they leave the prison system,” Williams said.

Williams says in some cases they can even start treatment a month before the inmate leaves the facility that can help inmates get an early start on their recovery, but getting inmates clean also greatly reduces their chance of ending up back behind bars.

“Recidivism coming to the jail is a huge problem. And addiction is a big piece of that,” said Williams.

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Williams also stressed that as a country we need to start tackling addiction before it lands someone in jail.

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