Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce is no stranger to heroin addicts – especially when it comes to not being able to provide needed recovery services instead of incarceration.
And he shares that opinion—jails are not hospitals, not treatment centers—on a regular basis, because the goal is to offer addicts different options.
“Simply stated, we don’t do any rehab here.”
“But at least 80 percent in our jail – and I think that kind of goes along with the national average – has co-occurring mental health and drug addiction problems ,” he said. Joyce added that Portland, the state’s largest city, has only a couple dozen detoxification beds.
In fact, there aren’t very many of treatments slots in the entire state, he said. And that’s not a good situation for addicts or law enforcement.
“By default, they end up in jail. Generally they have committed a crime, but usually that crime is something that was caused by them either feeding their addiction or being high on drugs – typically the opiates,” he said. “So they get arrested, and we are trying to detox them and also watch for their withdrawals to make sure they don’t die in the process, but many do get pretty sick in the process.”
Bad as the situation is, there are still other complicating factors a sheriff must consider.
“They want me to cut costs in the jail – they really want all the sheriffs to cut jail costs – and the reality is that we probably could save some money in the long run if we provided treatment – whether it be for the drugs or mental health,” he said.
Denial, however, often gets in the way of progress.
“People just want to bury their head in the sand on this issue,” he said. Unlike some areas that lack enough jail space to house even low-level drug offenders, that’s not a problem locally.
“I’ve got room right now, but they won’t pay for it. So instead, here’s a thought – let’s try and take care of this opiate problem first,” he said.
“It’s a basic law of supply and demand. If we start taking care of the demand side so that people don’t want the opiates, and we can make them better then the supply is going to go elsewhere,”he said.
Now, however, “people drive out of New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut because they know that if they drive two, three or four hours north on Interstate 95 they can make almost three times what they are making in their own communities.”
These drug dealers who are selling opiates typically don’t use them, he said.
“And the sad truth is that the stuff they are selling, these opiates are killing people,” he said.