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Detox treatment common for Westmoreland County inmates

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Monday, April 21, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

Nearly half of the inmates who enter Westmoreland County Prison have a drug or alcohol problem, Warden John Walton said on Monday.

In March, 124 incoming inmates — 42 percent — required detoxification treatment.

“This is a big issue for us,” Walton said.

The number of addicted inmates has risen steadily since January, when 29 percent of new inmates needed detox. The number jumped to 39 percent in February and rose again in March.

From a financial perspective, drug and alcohol treatment has not yet become a big expense.

The county pays a predetermined monthly amount to the jail's medical provider.

In cases of severe addiction, the county incurs added costs to guard inmates in detox who remain in custody.

Many of the inmates who require detox are released to inpatient facilities, according to Walton.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings are held at the jail, but no organized treatment programs are provided, Walton told members of the county Prison Board, which includes county commissioners and District Attorney John Peck.

The long-term impact could be costly, according to Dirk Matson, head of Westmoreland County's Human Services Department and chairman of the county's Drug Overdose Task Force.

“Forty-two percent — that's way over the top. It just demonstrates the level of the drug and alcohol problem in our prison and illustrates how we can't take a law enforcement approach only. It's a public health problem,” he said.

As a result, plans are being formulated to help divert defendants who face minor drug charges — but serious addiction problems — from the jail and into treatment programs.

Officials have explored instituting a program that will assist inmates with counseling and job training before they leave the jail.

“We're looking at ways to do things differently,” Matson said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can bereached at 724-830-6293

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