A long list of painkillers, sleeping pills and other prescription drugs banned in the Washington County Jail was recently circulated by the sheriff's office to spread the word that the prescriptions of those entering the jail won't be honored once they're serving time.
Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said the policy is intended to save taxpayer money and discourage use of drugs that can be addictive even if they are legal.
But some believe that policy could fuel lawsuits from incarcerated people who have been prescribed drugs under a doctor's care.
"Don't go down to the clinic and get a prescription for methadone filled before you start serving out a sentence at the jail," Mincks said. "We want to get these people into stepdown treatment instead of just maintaining their addictions."
Methadone is a synthetic opiate often used in detoxification treatment and as a maintenance substance for those addicted to heroin and other drugs. But addicts under treatment can also become hooked on the methadone which acts as a "replacement drug."
"We will treat those with addictions for withdrawal symptoms, but we're not going to allow opiates in jail," Mincks said. "We've been doing this for some time and our medical director and nursing staff are very competent professionals who can treat these people for addictions. But we're not going to use taxpayer money to help maintain a drug addiction."
At a glance
Medications not approved at the Washington County Jail:
Opiates, including Vicodin, Norco, Percocet, OxyContin, Lyrica, Morphine and Tramadol.
Benzodiazepines (Benzos), including Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin.
No methadone or suboxone.
No sleeping pills, including Restoril, Dalmane, Ambien and Lunesta.
Source: Washington County Sheriff's Office.
Mincks said the list of unapproved drugs focuses on addictive drugs, not medication for diabetes or other illnesses.
He said jail medical director Dr. Michael Brockett does not prescribe maintenance drugs like methadone.
"He's the medical director, and we follow his advice," Mincks said.
But Washington County Public Defender Ray Smith says not allowing inmates to have their methadone and other prescribed drugs could be a source of legal action against the county, although he was not aware of any such action at this time.
"Methadone is prescribed to help addicts get off heroin. Take that away from those people and they go through a terrible withdrawal," he said.
Smith added that some drugs are also prescribed to keep addicts calm and help control their behavior. If they don't receive the drugs they could harm themselves or someone else.
Mincks said inmates do not often exhibit such out of control behavior.
"I think this is a huge concern," Smith said. "They're being denied medical care. And what happens if somebody dies?"
The recent notice from county jail administrator Lt. Brad Thorpe was sent to county public defenders, judges and local attorneys so it could be passed on to those who may soon be incarcerated at the jail. It read as follows:
No opiates will be prescribed or approved. This includes Vicodin, Norco, Percocet, OxyContin, Lyrica and Morphine. Also, no Tramadol will be approved.
No benzos will be approved. This includes Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin. If an inmate is currently prescribed these medications at the time of incarceration they will be weaned and discontinued at the medical director's discretion. However, alternative medical treatment will be provided if deemed necessary.
No methadone or suboxone will be approved or prescribed.
No sleeping pills will be approved or prescribed. This includes Restoril, Dalmane, Ambien and Lunesta.
Mincks said the policy has been in place for about four or five years and is occasionally updated with new drugs, most recently Tramadol. Smith said it's the first time he's been made aware of the policy in writing.
No drugs-including prescription medications not listed in the notice-are allowed inside the cell blocks, Mincks said.
"All medicines are checked at the medical room," he said. "If an inmate is required to take a prescription drug, it is administered by our nursing staff. The inmates come out one at a time and we watch them take the medication to make sure it is swallowed before they return to the cell. The process is also recorded on camera."
Mincks said the idea is to try to help addicts begin to kick their habits while serving jail time, which averages about three to four months, although he said there have been some inmates housed at the facility for nearly a year.
"We want to show them they can get off drugs and can stay off when they get out of jail, if they're willing," he said. "We've had people walk out of here without their drug habit. It can be done, but it takes a lot of support and they can't go back and run with the same crowd of users when they get out."
The local area is a supply area for illegal substances because there's a market for them here, Mincks said, adding that one part of the solution to that issue is reducing the number of addicts who want to purchase the drugs.