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Opioid task force focuses efforts on jail inmates

A local opioid task force is developing a plan to use settlement funds from a national class action lawsuit to support opioid recovery for Ward County Jail inmates.

Jail Commander Paul Olthoff told the Ward County Commission Tuesday that the intent is to start a Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) plan to enhance treatment for inmates. Currently, the U.S. Department of Justice requires inmates receiving any type of treatment for opioid use disorder have that treatment continued after incarceration, and the Ward County Jail is in compliance through a local service agency. The proposed MOUD would extend medication services to other inmates for whom the treatment is appropriate and connect inmates with community services once released.

Commissioner Shelly Weppler, who serves on the task force, said MOUD plans are expected to be required of jails in a year or two.

“They’re looking at Ward County as kind of a learning ground,” she said. “They may want to repeat what’s being done here.”

“This is going to happen,” Olthoff added. “Putting somebody on MOUD is going to be something that is standard in jails across the United States.”

The cost of implementing a MOUD plan is not yet known. Olthoff said more will be known once service agencies submit bids.

“If we do this, we have to make it sustainable and something that 20 years from now we are still doing,” he said.

Settlement payments are expected for the next 18 years, but Weppler said they likely won’t be enough to fully cover costs without other funding sources.

Weppler said Ward County has $94,000 in funds from the opioid settlement lawsuit. The City of Minot is participating in the task force, and Weppler estimated the city’s settlement funds currently amount to $30,000.

Weppler and Olthoff noted the county could pursue grants to augment those dollars.

Olthoff said it could be the end of this year before there would be a need to tap into any funds.

Program goals outlined in the task force update include:

– Training officers to recognize symptoms of detoxification.

– Training officers in accessing the need for MOUD.

– Continuing treatment and peer support for inmates entering the jail on medication.

– Extending medication to inmates in need, along with follow-up treatment and peer support.

– Provide guidance to inmates regarding how to access services for opioid use disorder upon release.

– Provide data showing the effectiveness of the program.

The City of Minot is listed as the source of technical support to track the program’s success. First District Health Unit has been coordinating the task force, and service agencies interested in coming on board with resources are Quality Health Association of North Dakota, North Central Human Service Center, Management and Training Corp., Minot Area Recovery Community Organization, Ideal Options and Community Medical Services.

The county commission voted to receive and file the task force update to indicate support for the direction being taken. Olthoff said the task force will come back with a formal plan once it is fully developed and costs are determined.

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