Hennepin County program underway to help inmates struggling with addiction

Updated: June 27, 2019 10:29 PM

A new program is underway in Hennepin County to help inmates struggling with addiction.

They are now screened for opioid use disorder when they arrive at the Adult Detention Center. It started in January to connect inmates with medication assisted treatment.

“The folks that we’re seeing have been struggling with their substance use disorder for at least a year, but often 10, 15 or 20 years,” said Dr. Tyler Winkelman.

He’s seen about 50 to 60 patients since January. About 80 percent, he said, are coming in already on treatment.

For some, however, it’s the first time they’ve been sober.

“We have a lot of catch-up work to do to treat their opioid use disorder,” said Winkelman.

Inmates are a high-risk group.

Winkelman released a report he co-authored just before the program launched. It analyzed 2015 to 2016 overdose statistics.

The report found that 30 percent of opioid related deaths statewide happened within a year of an inmate being released from a state, county or local jail. In Hennepin County, more than half of those deaths happened within 90 days of release.

“When people stop their treatment when they enter jail or prison, they're less likely to re-enter treatment when they leave,” said Winkelman. “They're at a very high risk for overdose and death.”

He said 70 percent of the inmates they’ve treated have continued with the medication after they were released.

“We really feel the most important part of this program is making sure that people who start treatment when they're here are able to connect with a provider in the community who can continue that treatment,” he said.

A state grant would help with that. The county has requested the funding to add a nurse to help coordinate treatment and social worker to connect inmates to healthcare and housing when they leave.

The grant is now before the full County Board of Commissioners for approval.

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Callan Gray

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