Pa. county jail to supply inmates with overdose reversal kits

Inmate funds will be used to buy 1,000 nasal spray kits in an effort to reduce fatal overdose rates

Jamie Martines
The Tribune-Review

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — The Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board has approved a $75,000 disbursement from the Inmate Welfare Fund to buy 1,000 Narcan nasal spray kits to be provided to inmates as they are released from the jail.

The distribution program, which started in 2016, was previously funded by grants and with support from the Allegheny County Health Department.

Inmates at the Allegheny County Jail will soon receive overdose reversal kits containing naxolone upon their release. (Photo/PDOC)
Inmates at the Allegheny County Jail will soon receive overdose reversal kits containing naxolone upon their release. (Photo/PDOC)

“In short, Narcan saves lives,” said Laura Williams, chief deputy warden of health care services. “It’s important that we continue to advocate for this program to continue. The county will continue to seek additional funding sources in the 2020 year so that we can sustain these initiatives and continue to save lives in Allegheny County.”

The kits — which contain two 4 mg Narcan nasal sprays — would each cost $75 with a discount provided by pharmaceutical company Adapt Pharma.

The oversight board’s vote Thursday was unanimous.

The jail will first buy a batch of 500 kits with the hope that a cheaper, generic version might come on the market sometime next year to meet the remaining need, Williams said.

For the time being, the health department will provide the jail 200 kits to cover the program until additional ones are purchased.

Several studies show that formerly incarcerated people face a higher risk of fatal drug overdoses — especially within the first two weeks of returning to the community, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Allegheny County Jail was among the first in the nation to pilot the Narcan distribution program in 2016.

Narcan, also referred to by its generic name, naloxone, reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

The jail distributed more than 2,800 kits to people discharged from the jail between October 2016 and early last month, according to figures provided by the jail.

They are offered to all inmates who pass through the jail’s Discharge and Release Center.

In addition, many are taken by people who are not drug users themselves, Williams said.

“About 65% of the population that was accepting the Narcan at the time of release were non-opioid users,” Williams said. “Meaning that these were family members or loved ones who knew somebody who was using opioids, and they wanted to ensure that they had a life-saving medication on hand so that they could reverse an overdose.”

The board also voted to disburse more than $230,000 from the Inmate Welfare Fund to cover staffing needs at the Discharge and Release Center, which assists people discharged from the jail with coordinating phone calls with family, transportation, medications and connecting with other services upon leaving the jail.

The center is staffed six days per week but will add Sundays starting in January.

Terri Klein, who sits on the board as a community member, questioned whether the Inmate Welfare Fund was the best source for funding the center.

Revenue in the fund is generated by commissions from the commissary — money spent by inmates — and does not include taxpayer money. Expenditures are approved by the Jail Oversight Board and are intended to benefit the education and welfare of inmates.

Klein requested that the board discuss stricter parameters for using money from the fund.

“I think that without tightening the parameters, there is a potential for ‘mission creep,’ or whatever you want to call it, for the fund to be used for general operating,” Klein said.

As of Nov. 30, there was $2.6 million in the Inmate Welfare Fund, according to figures provided by the Allegheny County Controller’s Office.

The board approved two other disbursements from the inmate welfare fund: $17,500 to buy bus tickets for people who are released from jail and a little more than $200,000 to fund the HOPE Pre-Release Program, an interfaith program that works with incarcerated people on life skills including anger management, parenting, drug and alcohol use, and steps to take upon release from jail.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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