Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton discusses how Penobscot County Jail workers are trying to help inmates combat opioid addiction in this June 16, 2017, file photo. Credit: Nick Sambides

The Penobscot County Jail will be able to more than double the number of inmates taking part in a pilot program to break opioid addictions, thanks to renewed state funding.

When the RISE program launched last June, only 12 female inmates at a time were eligible to participate in the program, Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton said.

Those women received a combination of counseling and Vivitrol, the brand name for the medication naltrexone, a monthly injection that stops the symptoms of opioid withdrawal and reduces cravings. And when they got out of jail, they were offered a range of services through Penobscot Community Health Care to support them in their recovery.

Last month, the state Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services renewed the jail’s $350,000 contract with PCHC, Morton said. The funding will allow the number of participating inmates at one time to jump from 12 to 30, and men are now be eligible to participate, he said.

The money also buys the facility more time to keep working on ways to improve the program, which has struggled to keep people enrolled after they leave the jail, Morton said. During the first year of the program, fewer than 10 percent of the people who received a Vivitrol shot inside the jail successfully transitioned into services outside of the facility, according to Ann Giggey, who directs the Hope House, where those services are based.

In the coming year, Morton said the program aims to improve that percentage.

Because the jail continues to house a number of inmates battling opioid addictions, the facility often forces people to undergo the difficult process of detoxification, which results in brutal flu-like symptoms and can deter people from taking the beginning steps toward recovery. By default, jail is often a way people temporarily get clean — and for that reason seemed like a good opportunity to offer Vivitrol, which requires a person be clean of opioids for at least week before it becomes effective.

The jail piloted the program with women because those inmates are housed together, and it was easy to organize the mandatory group counseling sessions that came with the monthly shot, Morton said.

After participating inmates are released, they are then set up with a range of health and support services. Those services are based at the Hope House on Corporate Drive in Bangor.

But recovery is an especially hard road for a person just released from jail, according to Dr. Trip Gardner, chief psychiatric officer and medical director of homeless health services at PCHC.

Often they are sent back out into the same environment that lead to or encouraged their drug use, where they are prone to relapse, he said. They also are more vulnerable to overdosing, studies show, because the inmate’s tolerance to opioids decreases over the period of sobriety during incarceration.

That’s why the post-release support services are so essential to RISE’s success. But during its pilot year, a PCHC clinician saw a total of 76 women who participated in RISE inside the jail, and of those, 60 were released, and just six of them made their way into the services aimed at supporting their long-term recovery.

Those numbers don’t discourage Gardner, Giggey or Morton. All three stressed that a program aiming to help people overcome something as difficult as addiction won’t have 100 percent success rate. Six people is better than none, Giggey said.

As for Morton, he is open to trying to improve the program and glad the state is willing to invest the money to let him try.

“We’re an open book. You think it can work better? Show us,” he said.

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Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.