LUDLOW, Mass. (WWLP) – The Hampden County Sheriff’s Medication Assisted Treatment program has helped more than 1,500 men and women battling substance use disorder.

COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone for a year now but according to the CDC data, it has helped worsen the opioid epidemic.

According to Hampden County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Robert Rizzuto, the Hampden County MAT program pairs counseling and behavioral therapy along with access to all three FDA-approved addiction medications for treating substance use disorder such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.

Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi said they use three FDA approved medications to curtail people’s desire of using opioids.

“An opioid is very powerful. it attacks opioid receptors in the brain its very difficult to control once you engaged. So any bit of help we can give someone, safe help is what we are striving for,” said Cocchi.

Rizzuto said that more than 80% of incarcerated individuals report battling with some level of substance use disorder and compared to the rest of the adult population, the opioid-related overdose death rate upon release from custody is 120 times higher.

“The MAT program helps people coming into our custody maintain these critical prescriptions
without a fear of having to unnecessarily go through withdrawal,” Cocchi said. “At the same time, it helps current inmates and substance use disorder clients maintain abstinence from illicit drugs and ensures they return to the community with the best chances of avoiding an overdose and transitioning into long-term recovery. Offering this program and these medications is the humane and right thing to do if we truly want to help people battling addiction-related issues.”

On February 11, the 22News I-Team looked into the impact of the opioid crisis in western Massachusetts during the COVID-19 pandemic and what’s being done to help those fighting opioid addiction.

According to Rizzuto, recent CDC data suggest that the rate of overdose deaths during the year leading up to May 2020 was up 38.4% over the previous year. A recently released JAMA Psychiatry study analyzing emergency department visits also showed a significantly higher weekly rate of opioid overdose-related visits from mid-March to October 2020 compared to the same period a year before.

The MAT program started on September 1, 2019 and has provided a critical bridge to treatment
for 1,586 men and women who came into the custody of the sheriff’s office either as inmates or
Section 35 treatment clients. The program is made possible through a partnership with CODAC Behavioral Healthcare, the largest non-profit outpatient provider for opioid treatment in Rhode Island.

According to medical staff with the program, people coming into the HCSD’s custody with an active MAT prescription are allowed to continue their treatment regimen with a typical approval coming the same day as intake. Anyone in custody who reports a form of substance use disorder
where the three FDA-approved medications are deemed helpful is assessed for eligibility and
started on MAT when appropriate.

Rizzuto said in addition to medication, individual and group therapy is provided by CODAC and HCSD staff for many clients.

Sentenced inmates not presently on medication, but with a previous history of substance use disorder may be eligible to start MAT prior to release. Anyone on MAT is directly connected with an authorized and licensed MAT clinic wherever they live.