Westmoreland jail sees highest percentage of new inmates needing drug, alcohol detox
A record percentage of new inmates lodged at the Westmoreland County Prison in May needed detoxification services for drug and alcohol addiction, officials said Monday.
Warden John Walton told members of the county prison board that 204 of the 239 new inmates, more than 85%, who were brought into the lockup facility were deemed addicted to drugs and needed special services.
“It’s the most it’s ever been. The numbers are up,” Walton said.
Officials said 82 of the new inmates who needed detox services last month were addicted to opioids.
The number of addicted inmates has been a concern for jail officials for some time, but the numbers haven’t been this high since the county started tracking the statistic several years ago.
Walton said 70% of new inmates required detox services in April, 74% in March and 81% in February.
“We’ve had some people hallucinating, and that puts stress on officers. We’ve also had to put people on suicide watch, and there are medical expenses,” Walton said.
Those medical expenses, he said, are minimal. Most detoxing inmates receive some medication to assist with their sickness for withdrawal symptoms. Officials have not calculated the total costs associated with detox services, Walton said.
Inmates in need of detox services are identified when they arrive at the jail, and many are permitted to deal with their withdrawal symptoms in their cells. Some are transferred to the jail’s medical unit, according to the warden.
Drug addiction among inmates has been a focus for the county. The county last summer instituted a voluntary program for inmates to receive a free dose of the anti-addiction drug Vivitrol. That drug, which prevents users from getting high, is donated to the county and is given to inmates who participate in the program before they are released from jail. Inmates in the program also receive counseling and are required to have followup sessions and treatments after they are released.
Opioid addiction has been a problem throughout the county in recent years as the number of fatal drug overdoses steadily rose every year since 2008 and reached an all-time high in 2017 with 193 deaths. The drug-related fatalities finally decreased last year, to 122, and are on pace to continue declining.
As of June 3, the county coroner reported only 24 fatal overdoses this year, with another 15 suspected cases awaiting final toxicology results.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .