I had the pleasure of meeting with Sheriff Mendrick of DuPage County today. He is a shining light of hope in our nation’s fight against Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and the need to make organizations, institutions, and communities recovery friendly.
Reducing Deaths Post-Incarceration
"80% of inmates have addiction," he states. Recognizing that, one of the programs he implemented since becoming sheriff last December is providing evidence-based treatment by offering Vivitrol to inmates prior to their release. Vivitrol (the brand name for the drug naltrexone) is a once a month injection that blocks opioids from reaching opioid receptors in the brain.
To understand the importance of this measure, consider the following:
- In the first two weeks after being released, former inmates are 40 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general population.1
- Post-release opioid-related overdose mortality is the leading cause of death among people released from jails or prisons.2
- Individuals released from prison have 129 times greater risk of drug overdose in the first 2 weeks post-release relative to the general population. The majority of these overdoses involved opioids.2
A shot of Vivitrol almost guarantees that the person released from jail will not die of an opioid overdose for 30 days. One wonders why all jails have not implemented this program.
Sheriff Mendrick partnered with the DuPage County Health Department and the DuPage County Coroner’s office to receive the grant of $1.1 million from the US Department of Justice to provide this program. The Coroner’s office will be using historical and new data to measure and document the effectiveness of the program.
Drug Recovery Pod
One of the biggest fears of anyone suffering from SUD and headed for jail is the horrific withdrawal they will experience. For people with Opioid Use Disorder, the withdrawal could be from the illegal drug they are using or from legal, doctor-prescribed medicine like Suboxone. There is now a drug recovery pod at DuPage Jail where incoming inmates can detox with less pain.
Job Skills, Hope, and Purpose
Sheriff Mendrick prefers the term “correctional facility” to the word “jail” because he is passionate about helping the community by helping inmates become better citizens. He also is passionate about the words “hope” and “purpose”, believing that if inmates can find hope and purpose, they can more easily become productive members of society.
To that end, inmates are provided the opportunity to learn job skills. Many have enrolled and graduated in such areas as culinary, janitorial, and welding. GED studies are also available. The training results in a vocational certificate. For example, the six-week custodial program teaches participants the proper use of janitorial equipment and chemicals and earns them a certificate from Cleaning Management Institute. (It also keeps the correctional facility clean!) Once again, the program funding comes from a partnership – this one with JUST (Justice, Understanding, Service, Teaching) of DuPage.
He has also launched a reentry program. Staff representatives reach out to the homes the inmates are returning to and offer the family members suggestions on how to make the reentry as successful as possible.
Sheriff Mendrick is working beyond the jail to address the epidemic in the county. He is partnering with state representatives to distribute drug disposal bags. Unused opioids sitting in medicine cabinets then finding their way to the streets have been a huge contributor to the increase in addiction rates and deaths. Putting the pills into these bags and adding water deactivates the drugs making them ready to be thrown into the trash.
Recovery Friendly County
As someone who watched a loved one be put into jail for the disease of Opioid Use Disorder, not be allowed to continue his medication assisted treatment, suffer the painful withdrawal in jail, then get released without protection, words cannot describe how valuable these programs are. They are reducing the harm of the disease; they are saving lives; and they are making DuPage a recovery friendly county.