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By Fran Daniel Winston-Salem Journal

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners gave the go-ahead Thursday for a pilot program to reduce the county jail population by helping inmates with addictions to opioids, heroin and alcohol.

The commissioners unanimously approved a $70,000 contract between Forsyth County and Insight Human Services Inc. for Insight to provide a program coordinator for the District Attorney’s Treatment Alternatives program, known as DATA.

The contract is for the first year of the pilot program.

Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill has said that DATA is believed to be the first program of its kind in North Carolina that is incentive-based where inmates can work off their low-level offenses.

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners had previously set aside $200,000 to include the contract for a program coordinator and pharmacy costs.

O’Neill has said that the county jail is like a holding area for some addicts, a place where 50 percent of the current inmates in the jail have addiction and mental-health issues.

DATA candidates will be allowed prejudication, meaning they will be able to work off their charges.

Along with intensive outpatient treatment, program participants will be given Vivitrol, an opioid-addiction medication made by the biopharmaceutical company Alkermes.

Vivitrol is described at www.vivitrol.com as “a non-addictive, once-monthly treatment proven to prevent relapse in opioid dependent patients when used with counseling following detoxification.”

The company wants people to be drug free for seven to 10 days before taking Vivitrol.

O’Neill has said that ideally the inmates will first go to Addiction Recovery Care Association Inc., or ARCA, an inpatient facility for seven to 10 days of education, counseling and support. Then they would go to Insight or Daymark Recovery Services for outpatient treatment.

On Thursday in an interview, O’Neill said: “I know that I speak for the providers at Insight, Daymark and ARCA, as well as the many families that are suffering and coping with the crisis of heroin, opioid and alcohol addiction that their loved ones are enduring. We are most grateful for the county commissioners for funding a program to help people achieve sobriety.”

The next step is to get the contract signed, then O’Neill hopes to start the program in early September.

Forsyth County Commissioners Dave Plyler and Don Martin said they like the idea of such a program as DATA.

“It’s ground-breaking,” Plyler said.

Martin called DATA “a great deal” and congratulated O’Neill for his efforts helping to create such a program.

“It basically gives folks when they get out of jail a year to get back on their feet and get off their habits,” Martin said.

Commissioner El-Amin said that based on his research the costs for the shots appear to be “astronomical,” but he is all for the program if it will reduce the number of people in jail and address drug addiction.

O’Neill has said that the shots will be about $1,100 to $1,200 each if people don’t have insurance or qualify for Medicaid.

He has also said that Alkermes will give Forsyth County two options for working out financially the purchase of the Vivitrol shots and that the company has a patient-assistant program to help participants get shots.

Article Reference: Forsyth Commissioners OK Program to Reduce Jail Population and Deal with Inmates' Opioid, Heroin and Alcohol Addictions