Do No Harm Symposium: Substance Abuse in Corrections

Group Photo Jim McGreevyYesterday, we were at the Morris County Correctional Facility, in Morristown, NJ for the Do No Harm Symposium, which addressed opiate and prescription abuse in New Jersey’s correctional facilities. We had the pleasure of having keynote speaking, Governor Jim McGreevy, as well as other fantastic speakers including: Group Supervisor Phil Streicher, of the Tactical Diversion Squad, Drug Enforcement Administration, Medical Director Dr. Sindy Paul,  of New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners, and Clinical Assistant Professor Dr. Ronald Reeves,  of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Phil Streicher discussed the issue of addiction among the inmate population, noting that according to the Department of Justice, 48% of all inmates are incarcerated due to substance problems. He further discussed how the prescription epidemic continues to grow, and stated that from 2011 to 2014, New Jersey rose from ranking 41st in overdoses in the country, to 18th. He went on to discuss the role mis-prescription, over prescription, and fraudulent prescription by doctors plays in this epidemic. 70% of the United States population is on at least one prescription medication, and 50% of that number is on 2 or more.

Former Governor Jim McGreevy discussed how critical treatment is to substance abusers, especially in correctional facilities. He stated, “If we have people behind bars, and do not provide them with treatment, it is a profoundly missed opportunity.” Treatment is critically important in jails, and the Governor said, “If you don’t treat the proximate cause of people’s criminal behavior, namely their addiction, they will return to criminal behavior.”

Dr. Sindy Paul spoke regarding the board, and how crucial Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMP) are. She discussed efforts to make forging prescriptions more difficult, by creating prescription pads with finger-sensitive stamps, that will not produce on a copy.

Last to speak was Dr. Ronald Reeves, who discussed the large prevalence of substance abuse as well as mental illness in correctional facilities. Over 50% of New Jersey prisoners met DSM criteria for addiction. Dr. Reeves made it very clear that incarceration does not decrease substance abuse! Nearly 75% of released inmates return to heroin within 3 months, and the percentage increases over time. Dr. Reeves discussed information regarding prescription abuse within corrections, including what they tend to attempt to abuse, and what makes them more prone to abuse. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world – and Dr. Reeves stated the following alternatives to incarceration: Probation, Drug Court, involuntary outpatient commitment, decrease re incarceration for technical violations. In 2007, 40% of inmates released returned within 3 years, and 80% of that number were returned for technical violations. Another attempt to decreasing incarceration would be to lessen length of stay for, specifically for drug crimes.
Overall, the speakers each brought great messages to the symposium. Members in the audience shared provoking insights, as well as asked great questions.

Following the panel, we were invited to a tour of the facility. The entire facility was impeccable, and run extremely well. The staff and the officers were extremely helpful, sharing their passion for the job, continuously reiterating, “If you treat people like animals, they will act like animals; but if you treat them like humans, and with respect, they will act accordingly.”