County Legislators unanimously approved a budget increase for the Cortland County Correctional Facility’s medical staff at Tuesday’s Judiciary and Public Safety committee meeting, paving the way toward the implementation of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program.
The program will soon be mandated by New York state, according to Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms, and would make available medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) for incarcerated people who need it.
If approved by the County Legislature later this month, the resolution would increase the jail physician’s line item in the facility’s budget to about $220,000 from roughly $142,700 currently budgeted, according to Helms. This new contract would lapse in January 2025 and would start in January next year.
“This is a significant change from past years,” Helms said. “The physician himself would be getting an increase of 4 percent over last year, but for the additional years, there is no further increase. The change comes in the (registered nurse) services, which doubled. The cost is a total increase of about $80,000 from last year’s cost.”
Helms noted the cost increases could be sharper.
“Because of the MAT we have to have more (registered nurse) coverage,” Helms said. “We are not adding an additional position to the county, we are adding additional funds to the contract. These nurses work for the doctor, he holds the liability on them. It would cost three times what we are paying the physician if we hired our own nurses.”
Legislator Kelly Preston (R-LD-10) praised Helms for being ahead of the curve in instituting the program.
“This is going to be mandated and we are getting a jump start on this program,” Preston said.
Late last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a slew of bills to help incarcerated people in New York state. This includes Assembly Bill 533 and Senate Bill 1795, which called for the creation of the MAT program in state and county correctional facilities across the state.
“Addiction can impact any family, suddenly and harshly,” Hochul said in a statement. “Those who find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle are there through no fault of their own. There is no shame in seeking help for substance use and I want to let all New Yorkers know that we are here for you. Treatment should always be accessible for those who need it.”
An MAT program, according to the office of State Senator Jamal Bailey, a New York City Democrat, can help reduce the pains of withdrawal and stop any cravings for opioids through the use of methadone. Bailey is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 1795.
“Advocates refer to opioid use disorder as a chronic health condition that should be treated as such,” a statement from Bailey’s office reads. “They believe that without these medications available, people with the disorder suffered painful withdrawal, and an increased risk of relapse, overdose and death, which is exacerbated for those recovering from opioid abuse in jail.”
Outside of the MAT program, Helms said he expects to have the presence of more medical professionals at the correctional facility.
“We are going to have more physicians in the jail, not only for the MAT, but for community re-entry service plans,” he said. “There is a lot more to the MAT than giving people medication. You have to have a treatment and discharge plan for when they are released, as well as mandatory counseling that has to go with it.”
Helms also warned of the potential new challenges that may come with the program.
“There are going to be more issues. Inmates are supposed to be housed separately so they are supposed to have units for people in this program,” he said. “We don’t have the space. The logistics of all of this are (going to) work out are a struggle right now.”