Opioid abuse remains a significant problem and, for people leaving Indiana's prisons, it is particularly dangerous.
“Tolerance for opioids can change significantly over time, and many newly released offenders believe they can use the same amount of opioids they used prior to incarceration,” David Reid, Indiana Department of Correction director of addiction recovery services, said in a statement. “Add in the compounding effect of alcohol with opioids and it's a recipe for fatal overdose.”
Nearly 27,000 people are locked up in Indiana prisons, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for alternatives to incarceration. Of those, Reid estimates that up to 55% “have experienced some form of problematic opioid abuse.”
“This data does not imply that opioids are the 'drug of choice' for those offenders or was the substance that caused the most impairment in their daily living,” he said. “Clearly, though, opioid use is a huge problem among the incarcerated population in Indiana.”
A bigger problem is when inmates are released and drugs such as heroin and fentanyl are suddenly attainable.
The state's Department of Correction has launched a forward-thinking program that offers naloxone – a drug also known as Narcan that works as an opioid overdose antidote – to people released from the prison system.
It's not a solution to addiction problems, but the move is a way for the agency to ensure former inmates stay alive and, possibly, receive treatment.
Inmates undergo medical screenings before they are released and are asked whether they want treatment.
Overdose Lifeline Inc. gave 2,255 naloxone kits worth $84,000 to prisons in Indiana. The Indianapolis nonprofit was founded in 2014 to help “individuals, families and communities affected by the disease of addiction/substance use disorder through advocacy, education and support,” according to its website.
Kits include naloxone, directions for use and “a referral card for treatment,” a news release says.
David Bursten, an IDOC spokesman, said kits are in place at each of the agency's 21 adult and juvenile facilities. Overdose Lifeline has pledged thousands more doses to state prisons, he said.
“Many releasing persons have been given a kit since the rollout (about a month ago); however, we do not currently have the total number of kits distributed,” Bursten said in an email.
Capt. Kevin Hunter of the Fort Wayne Police Department tracks drug overdoses and said opioids “are a huge problem” among inmates. Non-fatal overdoses totaled 829 in 2019, Hunter said. Through October of this year, 1,044 overdoses – 93 fatal – were recorded.
The statistics include opioids, alcohol and other drugs.
“I think it's a great idea that the Indiana Department of Correction is giving out Narcan,” Hunter said.