Heroin detox, Hepatitis go unchecked, untreated in NJ Prisons


New Jersey does crime and punishment all wrong and we’ve got the recidivism rate to prove it.

That’s why an editorial from the Philly Inquirer was so devastating. It was a sad reminder that our broken system often ensures relapse and recidivism for anyone newly released from jail.

“The hours after release from jail are critical, and can be extremely dangerous. For example, people in addiction who are released from incarceration are 130 times more likely to die of an overdose in the days following their release. Philadelphia should be using the moment of release from jail as a point of contact to connect people to services and help with the first steps into reentry — not make those steps as hard as possible.”

They’re taking about Philly but that’s good advice for New Jersey where many leave prison without the tools to thrive or even cope with life on the outside.

Giving newly released prisoners (especially former heroin users) the best chance to break those cycles requires intervention.

It may be more basic than you think.

I was never in jail but I did do 28 days in rehab for meth. People ask why I thrived 0ut of rehab. It came down to hard work and mostly luck.

Before I left drug treatment, I had 1) a valid ID 2) a hepatitis C screen and 3) an activated Medicaid card to keep me healthy.

Heroin wasn’t my drug of choice, but if it were, 4) I had access to medical assisted therapy (MAT) to manage those dreadful cravings.

Former NJ Governor Jim McGreevy has devoted his life to ending the revolving door cycle of prison recidivism in NJ. He helps break down why those four things – all four of them – are necessary and non negotiable for recovery.

State-issued ID

This was the crux of the Philly Inquirer editorial I quoted earlier.

“Without ID, a person can’t function in modern society,’ McGreevy told InsiderNJ “Without a state ID or license, a person typically can not rent an apartment, be approved for employment, access state and federal employment training, disability, and housing programs, access Medicaid, medical, and mental health care. When a person is released from prison, most have only a NJ DOC identification, which won’t go far outside the wall.”

Not having a proper ID is a major hurdle for anyone newly released from prison. If want them to succeed, they need an ID.

So what’s NJ Department of Corrections Acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks doing to make it happen?

Hepatitis Screening

Anyone entering rehab gets screened for hepatitis and other blood-borne cooties. If something complicated pops up like hepatitis C, there’s time to stabilize it.

I did a full battery of lab-work on day 2 or 3 of rehab. This was basically the first moment when I was like “Oh shit, my behavior has consequences!”

That’s a humbling awakending.

I’ll never forget when those electric double doors flung open and I saw my doctor with my fat medical file tucked under her arms. The clickety-clack of her boots on the linoleum echoed down a very long hallway.

Learning whether all those dirty needles ruined my liver was quiet the reckoning. I actually felt faint.

Then she flashed a smile and waved thumbs up. I didn’t have hepatitis and I could move onto the next thing on my very long list of things to fix.

Everyone in rehab gets screened for hepatitis right off the bat. This usually does NOT happen in prisons in NJ despite the conclusive correlation between IV drugs, hepatitis, and incarceration.

I implore NJ Governor Murphy to call NJDOC’s acting commissioner Marcus O. Hicks and ask why hepatitis goes unchecked in NJ’s prison settings. If the governor doesn’t get a satisfying answer, then he should find a new commissioner who prioritizes harm reduction over whatever you call what’s happing now.

Sadly, New Jersey isn’t an outlier, most states also fail to treat inmates living with hepatitis, a sad indictment of a system that ensures a steady steam of vulnerable people with hepatitis are released into the general population on a daily basis.

Medicaid Card/Medical Assisted Therapy

Having a Medicaid card that’s active upon release from prison is perhaps the best investment we can make in the long-tern recovery of anyone newly released.

According to Jim McGreevy, only about 5% of former heroin users have access to medical assisted therapy (MAT) while in prison. You’ve probably heard of methadone, that’s a form of MAT that helps wean people off heroin. Suboxone, also know as Buprenorphine, is more modern form of MAT used like methadone under medical supervision.

Vivitrol (aka Naltrexone) works differently from the other form of MAT by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain altogether. This approach is more instinctively pleasing for untrained people with strong opinions who think other forms of MAT are a crutch.

One shot of Vivitrol lasts a whole month, which in my humble opinion is ideal for someone newly sober or fresh out of prison.

And none of that’s possible without access to healthcare from day one.

Jay Lassiter’s award-winning podcast, Heroin Uncut, the Truth About the Crisis focused on the parts of NJ’s opiate crisis (ie: dirty needles, trading sex for drugs) that NJ policy makers don’t talk about enough.


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3 responses to “Heroin detox, Hepatitis go unchecked, untreated in NJ Prisons”

  1. What a can of worms this would open up. The NJDOC spends over a billion dollars of taxpayer money. What is going on?

  2. Jim McGreevy is doing a fantastic job, with very little help. This is a great post which shows the way to significantly helping solve the most egregious of the prison recidivism problem.

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