Many jails in Oklahoma are ignoring a state law requiring jail physicians to provide treatment to prevent inmates from undergoing methadone and opiate withdrawal during their incarceration.
President of the Oklahoma Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence Ann Jamieson has been connecting with jails, treatment programs and doctors to help spur implementation of Senate Bill 854, which was passed by the Oklahoma legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in May 2011.
The law states jail physicians must be particularly aware of the impact of opiate or methadone withdrawal symptoms which could affect the mental and physical health of the prisoner. They must then prescribe and administer appropriate medications.
Methadone is a synthetic opiate narcotic that when used once per 24 hours, orally, in adequate doses, can normally suppress an opiate addict’s craving and withdrawal for one day.
In a few counties, said Jamieson, inmates are being escorted to treatment facilities for medication — something which was extremely rare prior to SB 854. One county has an officer visit the program facility to pick up the methadone.
Jails aren’t treating withdrawal
After polling representatives of the 14 opioid programs in the state, Jamieson said most reported the jails in their counties continue to refuse to do anything to treat methadone withdrawals for the inmates despite the law requiring they do so. Jamieson said she was not free to release the names of these counties.
“Most counties in Oklahoma are allowing opiate dependent prisoners to suffer withdrawal in jail,” she said.
Payne County Jail Administrator Reese Lane said the jail has not had to make any changes in policy to comply with the law. Lane said some inmates have been prescribed and treated with methadone in jail, but it is rare. Lane said there is a nurse at the jail 80 hours a week and a mental health professional at the facility four hours a week. A physician visits the jail at least once a week but physicians are on call 24 hours a day.
The bill was initiated by State Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, after a Payne County resident brought the issue of methadone and opiate withdrawal to his attention.
“I thought it would be appropriate for us to try and incorporate into law that when someone is incarcerated we need to be mindful of their needs — particularly with respect to drug problems,” Halligan said.