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28 people complete program designed to help inmates overcome drug addictions

So far, none of those inmates have returned to custody in Onondaga County

SYRACUSE (WSYR-TV) - Since the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office joined a pilot program to help addicted inmates get clean, 28 people have completed the treatment.

For the past couple of years, inmates at the Onondaga County Justice Center and Jamesville Correctional Facility have been able to volunteer for the program.

Since August of 2016, more than 200 inmates have been considered for the first step of the process, including a medical review. 

About half moved forward to the next stage for vetting by agencies like ACR Health and Syracuse Recovery Services. 

Those who continue with the program receive counseling while they're behind bars and monthly injections of a drug called Vivitrol. It's designed to block the high produced by opioids. 

Chief Deputy Esteban Gonzalez, in the Custody Department at the Onondaga County Justice Center, estimates roughly 70 percent of inmates admit to using drugs or alcohol. '

Many crimes are fueled by addiction.

"They will burglarize, terrorize, rob, leave their families, do whatever they need to do to get that money to get that next fix, because it is that strong. It is pervasive throughout our community," he explains. "None of those names have come back into our system again, who have gone through the program. None."

He's referring to the 28 people who completed each step. Though, it's unclear if they've been admitted to other correctional facilities, outside of Onondaga County.

Once the participating inmates are released from custody, they can continue getting counseling and medication through ACR Health or Syracuse Recovery Services.

"The largest reason that people relapse is because they don't have support systems in place for them," said Alexandra Punch, Director of Drug User Health at ACR Health. "So, even having a place that they can just come to and talk to someone is really an important step toward recovery."

The agency also tries to link clients to long-term support programs, primary care physicians, and even provides training to administer medication that may keep them alive if they do relapse.

Chief Gonzalez says his department doesn't currently have to pay for the Vivitrol administered while inmates are still in custody. 

However, taxpayers do save money if those inmates successfully stay clean and stay out of jail. A spot at the Onondaga County Justice Center adds up to about $216 a day. The average stay is about 24 days. 

Law enforcement resources are also regularly tied up in the field with more drug-related emergencies - and they're seeing the same people overdose repeatedly.

"Those are the individuals who aren't in any programming, aren't getting any counseling help. They are continuing to overdose and eventually will die without any help," Gonzalez says. "If we can, in this controlled environment, help them some way - why wouldn't we want to do that?"

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