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Howard County, MD, is one of many counties feeling the heavy burden of opioid addiction. In the first half of 2017, 91 overdoses were reported, 26 of which were fatal. Many people addicted to drugs or alcohol eventually cycle through the correctional system, whether from possession charges, DWI/DUI charges, dealing/distribution, or other drug-related crime. Evidence has shown that treatment is more effective than just incarceration at rehabilitating addicts.

In promising news, this week, the Howard County Department of Corrections announced that low-level criminal offenders will now be provided with substance abuse intervention and treatment services. Services provided will include drug screenings, counseling services for at-risk individuals, and treatment referrals. The program expands on current treatment offerings for inmates serving longer sentences; services will be limited to those with shorter (<6 months) sentences or those awaiting trial.

This program was made possible by a major financial grant from Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore. The nonprofit, which provides related services for substance abuse and mental health, donated $86,000 to the Howard County Department of Corrections. This is the first such program to be instituted in a Maryland correctional facility. Much of the funding provided by BHSB will be used to hire a coordinator for the program and other staff. The coordinator will be responsible for offering both group and one-on-one counseling, as well as helping the inmates create a recovery plan. The program will begin this fall and will target those who have positive drug screens upon entry.

This news is certainly a step in the right direction for Maryland correctional services. Many people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol end up in a vicious cycle of incarceration, release, and returns to jail. A big part of this is due to the lack of any sort of actual rehabilitation. Someone who has hit bottom yet has no skills, resources, or knowledge about recovery is very likely to continue the same behaviors that landed them in jail or prison in the first place when they are re-released into the general population. It is absolutely vital to provide these people with some sort of treatment for their addiction, and resources they can lean on to stay on a clean path when they get out of jail. Career services, drug counseling, and twelve step meetings are all tools that would be highly valuable, and the program being instituted by the Howard County Department of Corrections is considerable progress.

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