North Sound News

Snohomish County tries giving Suboxone to heroin-addicted jail inmates

You can see the ravages of the heroin epidemic on the streets and inside the Snohomish County Jail.

Alta Langdon, a nurse practitioner who administers health services for the jail, said 333 inmates were booked into the jail last week.

"Forty percent of our bookings went on a withdrawal watch for heroin," Langdon said.

When heroin addicts enter jail, they go into withdrawal, and it's ugly.

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"It's like the worst case of flu you've ever had," Langdon said.

Jail staff have been providing medications for withdrawal symptoms like nausea.

Now, in a new pilot project that started this week, a few inmates are getting five days of a different drug, a generic form of Suboxone, which treats withdrawal symptoms.
"I'm super excited about it," said Lindsey Arrington, a former heroin user who now runs a group called Hope Soldiers.

"I personally haven't met anybody that's been to quit cold turkey, especially heroin, it's a whole other demon," Arrington said.

Langdon said the cost of Suboxone is the same as the cost of the medications already being given to inmates to treat withdrawal symptoms.

In fact, she predicts it will eventually bring "a huge cost savings to our community."

That's because Suboxone doesn't just treat withdrawal symptoms, it also helps wean addicts off heroin and put them on a path to kick the habit.

The inmates selected for the pilot program are repeat offenders, who will be sent directly to treatment when they get out of jail next time.

If they get clean, that means they might not come back to jail on the taxpayer's dime.

"If we can change their life by getting them on a medication that controls those cravings and can allow them to function in normal capacity and get a job and be with their families and reduce the crime in our area, we're doing the right thing," Langdon said.

The pilot program is starting with five inmates at a time getting Suboxone.

It will ramp up to 25 inmates at a time.

The county will track whether the inmates receiving Suboxone end up back in jail.