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How Sarasota jails are helping opioid offenders to heal

Last year, the opioid crisis was declared a public health emergency. Myriad opioid manufacturers and healthcare professionals are now facing lawsuits for having carelessly prescribed the highly addictive drugs as standard pain management medication—which resulted in an epidemic of addiction and death across the country.

The Sarasota jail system made headlines last week, when news correspondent Geraldo Rivera examined the county’s unique approach to helping inmates dealing with opioid addiction. The county’s innovative program is having powerfully positive impacts.

Drug offender addiction

While pharmaceutical companies are being blamed for pushing dangerous opioids onto the market, low-level opioid dealers are frequently the ones facing consequences. Many small-scale dealers are addicted to opioids themselves—making small sales in order to support their own drug habit. In that sense, such individuals are as much victims as they are offenders.

In most jail systems across the country, drug offenders are treated like criminals—in the same category as murderers or rapists. However, many such inmates simply need help getting clean so they can return to life as normal.

Sarasota’s pod system

The Sarasota jail system is cutting such inmates slack. It acknowledges that opioid addiction is a disease, and addicts need help—even if they’re behind bars. It has initiated a ground-breaking recovery program to aid its drug-addicted inmates.

Under the program, inmates with opioid addiction are separated from the rest of the jail population and divided into pods. In the pod program, they learn parenting skills and job skills. They receive help with career placement. They gain the support to patch their lives together. Most importantly, it gives them real hope for a fresh start.

The numbers speak for themselves

Sarasota’s pod program has been in place for a few years now, and the success rates are impressive. The recidivism rate for such drug offenders used to be at 46%. However, under the pod program, that number has dropped to 13% for men and just 6% for women.

It can be easy to villainize anyone who ends up in jail. But addiction is a disease that can cause people to act in desperate ways. Adopting a compassionate attitude toward drug offenders suffering from addiction represents a positive step forward.

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