Health

Fulton County Jail Program Helps Inmates Withdrawing From Opioids

A nurse at Fulton County Jail is checking for symptoms of opioid withdrawal, which include nausea and vomiting. The jail will start administering a drug to help people who are going through opioid withdrawals.
A nurse at Fulton County Jail is checking for symptoms of opioid withdrawal, which include nausea and vomiting. The jail will start administering a drug to help people who are going through opioid withdrawals.
Credit Elly Yu / WABE
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Fulton County Jail has launched a new program to help inmates who are experiencing withdrawal from opioids.

The jail will start administering the drug buprenorphine through its health care contractor, NaphCare, to treat patients with opioid withdrawal symptoms.

In a wing inside Fulton County Jail, nurse Kem Houston checks the vital signs of inmate Saleta Antoine for indications of opioid withdrawal as part of the program. She takes her blood pressure, her temperature and asks her a series of questions – if she’s feeling any chills, restlessness or pain.

Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, said Dr. Michael Pompey, a physician at the jail. But he says withdrawal can also become fatal.

“You become dehydrated, your blood pressure gets low,” he said. “You can have a heart attack or a fatal heart arrhythmia.”

In the past, Pompey says the jail used what are called “comfort meds” — medication to comfort inmates as they were experiencing withdrawal symptoms. But he says buprenorphine stops symptoms in their tracks. That can help people go about their day, said Emily Feely, chief medical officer at NaphCare.

“It greatly improves the patients — they go from being very sick, over a toilet and vomiting to walking around eating, drinking, participating in court. It just makes a dramatic difference,” Feely said.

Mark Adger, Fulton County’s chief jailer, says he hopes the drug will help start people on their path to recovery.

“I think once you can get a person over the hump of craving their drug of choice and you get their attention span directed in the right direction, you stand a better chance of successful treatment,” he said.

Fulton County Jail says it’s the first jail in Georgia to start using the drug for withdrawal symptoms.

As of Monday, the jail was monitoring 12 people for opioid withdrawal symptoms.