Lapeer County Sheriff unveils program aimed at freeing inmates from alcohol, opioid addiction

LAPEER — Most of us wouldn’t equate a stint in jail with good health, but for those battling addiction, that incongruence is reality—one that Sheriff Scott McKenna hears about all the time.

Once they’re away from the source of their addiction—alcohol, heroin and other opioids—inmates say they feel better than they have in years even though they’re locked away behind bars.

McKenna hopes to take that good health a step further with a new program recently launched at the Lapeer County Jail aimed at reducing recidivism by breaking the addiction cycle.

In a press conference last Wednesday, McKenna and Jail Administrator Lt. Duane Englehart and Corrections Deputy Joe Davis discussed their collaboration with Lapeer County Community Mental Health (CMH), Hamilton Community Health Network (Hamilton) and the Lapeer County Health Department which includes the administration of the drug Vivitrol to inmates who volunteer to participate in the program.

“In this day and age when we’re looking at addiction, we realize that what we’re doing isn’t working,” McKenna said. “Locking people up isn’t working. We said ‘let’s think outside the box and find a better way to help people.”

Sheriff Scott McKenna kicks off press conference last Wednesday.

The “better way” the department is now employing includes monthly injections of Vivitrol to inmates who’ve requested to participate in the program. Vivitrol, said Dr. Jaspreet Mann of Hamilton, blocks the pleasure receptors in the brain—diminishing the “high” created by alcohol and opioids—and reduces cravings for same.

Participant inmates must submit to counselling, and physical and mental health assessments before being approved for the program. A follow up plan is also put into place before inmates are released back into their communities.

“There are a lot of good people in our jail,” McKenna said. “Seventy to 75-percent of the (jail) population when they get out, they’re living in Lapeer County. These are our neighbors…If we have one, or three or five successes (with the Vivitrol program), I’m good with that.”

Vivitrol doesn’t come cheap. Each injection costs about $1,000, McKenna says. Undeterred, McKenna met with the drug’s manufacturer who agreed to provide the first injection for participating inmates at no charge. After that, patients are enrolled in programs at Hamilton, LCMH and signed up for Medicaid.

Corrections Deputy Joe Davis said the Vivitrol program offers a way out of the addiction cycle for those who urgently want a change.

“For the guy who says ‘I need help, I want to get out of here and I want to get better,’ Vivitrol is the key to the toolbox of recovery,” he said.

Davis reiterates that Vivitrol is just one component when it comes to breaking the addiction cycle. The support from CMH and Hamilton is also key.

“We’re putting a program together where we don’t fail them,” he said.

Participants are encouraged to continue the injections and counselling for a minimum of 18 months.

Jail Administrator Lt. Duane Englehart is enthusiastic about the Vivitrol program, and the 14 others currently offered at the jail. He credits staff, deputies and the Sheriff and Undersheriff Jeremy Howe with implementing programs that get results.

“We have inmates who have completed their diploma, are in college, and who don’t have to look behind them any more,” he says.

The positive results also show themselves in other surprising ways, McKenna added.

Englehart and Davis both have been surprised by former inmates who’ve greeted them with gratitude and hugs while they’ve been out and about in Lapeer County.

“This is better than what we’ve been doing for years,” McKenna said.

Lapeer County Jail Nurse Rhonda Lomerson and CMH/Jail clinician Danielle Giles also participated in the April 17 press conference.