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KRDO News Channel 13
Fremont County Sheriff says methadone opioid treatment for jails ‘keeps people addicted’
By Sean Rice,
FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- One element of a 2022 Colorado bill to address the fentanyl crisis was how people who enter county jails across the state are treated for their opioid addiction. Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper says the method the state wants the sheriff to use isn't the best and actually keeps people addicted to drugs.
When HB22-1326 became law on July 1, 2023, county sheriffs were required to have a medication-assisted treatment plan to care for a person addicted to illegal drugs when entering a period of incarceration. One part of that mandate was requiring sheriffs to administer the same treatment drug they were on previously, to them inside the jail.
For example, if someone was on methadone to wean off of fentanyl usage, the jail was required to administer that same drug to them. Sheriff Cooper claims methadone, which is widely considered to be the most popular opioid treatment, is too addictive. He claims alternatives like suboxone and vivitrol are less addictive and achieve better outcomes for people inside his jail.
"I was not real happy when the state mandated that we use methadone," Sheriff Cooper said. "I already had a JMAT program in place where we used suboxone and vivitrol and drugs like that are not as tightly regulated."
Cooper says "not as tightly regulated" means, to him, less addictive for its users.
"My focus is actually trying to wean people off of narcotics and not just maintain them," Cooper said.
13 Investigates spoke with democrat lawmaker Judy Amabile, Representative in Boulder, who says the need for methadone treatment is because it is "more effective" for some people who are addicted to fentanyl in particular.
"Suboxone doesn't always work for those people because they have a more severe addiction or they have a higher resistance to the substances," Rep. Amabile said.
Amabile acknowledged that alternatives to methadone can be highly effective for some people, but not for all. That's why the state law allows county jails to use all three drugs, methadone, suboxone, and vivitrol. The only caveat is the inmates really dictate what they receive by being able to request the opioid medication they want.
"If somebody is already on methadone and then they can't get it when they're in jail, that really does cause a lot of problems, not only while they're still in jail, but when they get out," Rep. Amabile said. "Now they are not having any treatment and they're going to potentially relapse when they get out of jail and that can often be fatal."
When asked by 13 Investigates if he thinks state lawmakers are trying to "keep people on drugs" by continuing to allow methadone treatments, the elected sheriff said, "yes, I do."
We then asked him why the state would do that, to which he replied, "I have no idea."
Cooper says he looks forward to continuing this conversation as a member of the "Jails Standards Commission," recently created by state lawmakers to form best practices for jails requirements, including what treatment drugs are best for opioid addictions.