Barnstable County Sheriff Jim Cummings addressed the National Governors Association (NGA) Monday at the Boston Park Plaza, and when he was done he returned the next day for an encore.
In this case, the NGA’s conference’s title said it all: “A Learning Lab on Expanding Access to Opioid Disorder Treatment for Justice-involved Populations.”
The nation’s battle to reduce opiate addiction, which often starts with pain killing pills before devolving to cheaper heroin and even cheaper Fentanyl, is near the top of almost every poll identifying those domestic ills most in need of vigorous engagement.
The Sheriff’s specific topic both times was Vivitrol, a drug that blocks the craving for opioids and alcohol. Sheriff Cummings was the first in Massachusetts to initiate an in-jail Vivitrol program, and in the four years since its launch about 275 inmates at his correctional facility in Bourne have been injected.
The non-addictive medication blocks the cravings for about a month, and inmate recipients in Barnstable County leave with a follow-up destination for additional dosages -- most often an approved out-of-jail treatment center.
Vivitrol fits seamlessly into a larger re-entry effort, one the Sheriff has also built into a national model. His RSAT inmate housing unit, short for Residential Substance Abuse Treatment, has been designated as one of a half dozen or so mentor sites for corrections administrators thinking about establishing or beefing up their treatment mission.
“We are happy and in fact honored to share our success using Vivitrol in the fight against opioids,” Sheriff Cummings told judicial, corrections, and public safety decision-makers from Massachusetts and eight other states (Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington)
On Monday, Sheriff Cummings and fellow Sheriff Peter Koutoujian of Middlesex County offered data to support the drug’s success to date and also talked about the milestones they have been able to achieve. The sheriffs also emphasized why data tracking and community partnerships are key to the outcomes recorded thus far.
They were back at it yesterday, this time joined by jurist Robert Ziemian and state Department of Correction (DOC) official Chris Mitchell. Judge Ziemian is a justice in the Massachusetts District Court system and Mitchell’s specialty at DOC is inmate re-entry.
Sheriff Cummings did some mentoring late last week as a dry run of sorts, inviting in Dean Williams, Alaska’s corrections commissioner, for a first-hand look at the Sheriff’s RSAT unit in Bourne.
The Sheriff is among the state’s foremost experts on Vivitrol’s use in a correctional setting and has spoken to numerous forums in and outside the Bay State.