Fewer than one percent of U.S. jails offer opioid users medical-assisted treatment

May 9, 2019

CHICAGO – As opioid-related deaths continue to increase at an alarming rate, jails are at the epicenter of the opioid crisis. Tens of thousands of people with opioid use disorder pass through the corrections system each year. At Cook County Jail, the largest single-site jail in the U.S., there were approximately 5,400 admissions in 2018 for opioid-related detox and approximately 375 – 450 admissions each month.

To help combat this national crisis, Cook County Health has been selected to participate in a national program to expand medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use in jails. The program is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, and Arnold Ventures, a national philanthropy headquartered in Houston, Texas.

 “Cook County Health embraces a harm-reduction approach and uses evidence-based treatment options for those in our correctional health system,” said Dr. Connie Mennella, Chair of Correctional Health for Cook County Health. “This funding will enable us to plan and develop a comprehensive continuum of care model with local stakeholders to target the jail population and to build bridges between in-custody and community-based treatment in Cook County, ultimately improving patient outcomes.”

Cook County Health currently offers a variety of evidenced-based treatment linkages, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT), in correctional health. MAT includes a combination of FDA-approved medication – such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone – in conjunction with behavioral health support to treat substance use disorders.

Cook County Health provides existing jail-based MAT services and is an accredited opioid treatment program by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration through the National Commission of Correctional Health Care.

Additionally, Cook County Health educates detainees about MAT and opioid use disorder and provides naloxone kits at the time of release from custody for overdose prevention. Since starting Illinois’ first program in August 2016, more than 5,000 detainees have received naloxone education at the Cook County Jail and over 3,500 kits have been provided upon release.

Cook County Health remains committed to increasing access to treatment programs for vulnerable populations with cross-system collaboration and innovation to tackle the opioid epidemic. The addition of this grant will supplement the health system’s current efforts at the jail.