A $1.46 million grant has been awarded for a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program to help inmates in the Wilkes County Jail break the chains of opioid and alcohol addiction.
Almost $1.1 million of the N.C. Department of Public Safety grant is for naltrexone injections, which are $1,500 apiece. One injection of this medication prevents a user from experiencing the high from opioid drugs and intoxication from alcohol for a month, said Major Jason Whitley, Wilkes jail supervisor.
Naltrexone is non-addictive, has no abuse potential and isn’t a controlled substance, added Whitley when he explained the program with naltrexone to the Wilkes County commissioners at their March 7 meeting. The board unanimously agreed to accept the grant, which requires no local match.
He said inmate participation is voluntary in the program, a cooperative effort between the sheriff’s office and Wilkes-based Project Lazarus. “Once inmates are released from custody, we will send them to Project Lazarus, where they will continue their treatment program,” he explained.
“Obviously, it’s not like you get your treatment in jail and all your issues are resolved. There is still work to be done with peer support specialists, group sessions, counseling, therapy and things like that” from Project Lazarus, said Whitley.
“We are hoping this will cut back on our recidivism rate — people coming back to be incarcerated,” he said, explaining that many of them are addicted to opioids and alcohol. Obviously, we have a big problem in the county with overdoses.”
Whitley said implementing the program in the jail was Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew’s idea. “Our medical team at the jail (which will administer the injections) is really excited about this.”
According to a written summary of the program from the sheriff’s office, about 80% of Wilkes jail inmates each year were behind bars there previously and at least 60% of the inmates have diagnosed or undiagnosed opioid, alcohol or some other substance use disorder.
“Based on these statistics, there is clear evidence of a need for the implementation of a medicated assisted treatment program at the Wilkes County Jail,” the summary stated.
Whitley said $1.46 million was awarded as a three-year grant, but will run out before then considering the cost of injections.
The summary said an average of 108 inmates at the Wilkes jail per year receive addiction withdrawal medication. Whitley said that based on this, there could be 100-300 people in the program in its first year.
Keith Elmore, chairman of the commissioners, asked if a portion of the millions of dollars awarded to the county under a nationwide settlement of lawsuits filed against opioid painkiller makers and distributors could be used in the program Whitley outlined.
Assistant County Attorney Brooke Felts said the program qualified for the settlement funds and could be sought for that purpose annually through an application process the commissioners approved. Whitley said someone with the Health Foundation, chosen by the board to oversee the application process, told him the same thing. Wilkes is getting $12.86 million in the settlement.
In addition to naltrexone injections, the grant funded sheriff’s office and Project Lazarus administrative expenses tied to the program. These costs include an additional jail officer to help facilitate sessions for participating inmates with peer support specialists from Project Lazarus; transporting inmates to these sessions; and other services.
The written summary said the grant will fund the work of Fred Brason, Project Lazarus president and CEO, with the program. This includes providing oversight of the $1.46 million grant for the county and state and coordinate the schedule for Daymark Recovery Services evaluations of inmates wanting to participate in the program, peer support specialists and data collection. It covers the cost of having a Project Lazarus staff person gather and aggregate data.
Brason said in an interview that the grant covers the cost of naltrexone injections while people are in jail for a few months after they are released, with the average period expected to be around six months per person.
Project Lazarus wrote the grant application and the sheriff’s office reviewed it.
Sign Up For Newsletters
Success! An email has been sent to with a link to confirm list signup.
Error! There was an error processing your request.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.