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Peer support coming to Trumbull jail

Program aimed at inmates who are in addiction recovery

WARREN — A program deemed successful in reducing recidivism and dependency on illicit drugs in Mahoning County is coming to the Trumbull County Jail.

Alki Santamas brought a peer support program to the Mahoning County Jail, where he formerly worked as the jail administrator. The program uses men and women who are in recovery from substance use disorders, have years of sobriety under their belt and have certain training to guide targeted inmates through the recovery process.

By starting a recovery program while behind bars, the peer mentor has time to work with men and women struggling to get a handle on their addiction from someone who knows what it is like before he or she is released, Santamas said. The program continues after the person is released, and the former inmate is connected to support and resources to continue on his or her path to recovery and the program coordinators track success statistics.

“The people the program has touched, the recidivism rate is much lower with the folks that have been linked to resources on the outside,” Santamas said.

Now, Santamas works as the director of criminal justice services for Meridian HealthCare in Youngstown and is helping bring the program to Trumbull County.

Part of the funding the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board received from the federal government under the CURES Act will fund the program, said Lauren Thorp, director of recovery and youth programs for the board.

This is the second year the board has received the funds, but this time around it received $353,438 — about $272,000 less than they received last year.

In 2017, the first year CURES funding was available to assist communities battling the deadly opioid epidemic with new programs to stifle the crisis, Trumbull County received $500,000 initially, but got an additional $125,000 halfway through the year, Thorp said.

The reason for less funding? More counties are able to dip into the pot this year.

“In the first year of the CURES funding, the money only went to what were called Tier 1 or Tier 2 county board areas. The tiers were determined using a formula that looked at the board areas’ number and rate of opioid related deaths. Trumbull County is a Tier 1 county board area. This year, they opened the funding up to counties that are not in Tier 1 or Tier 2,” Thorp said. “So with more counties being funded, the allocations had to be smaller.”

Last year, the board used the funds to pay for opioid addiction recovery treatment for 68 people without insurance or without adequate insurance to cover the cost of inpatient treatment, Thorp said.

“By giving people the opportunity to participate in inpatient treatment, we were able to extend their length of time in sobriety and improve their chances for long-term recovery,” Thorp said.

With the reduced funding, the board intends to continue to help others pay for treatment, but will not be able to help nearly as many people, Thorp said.

But the new peer support program should help many who end up in jail as a result of addiction, Thorp said.

“The goal is to provide support so that individuals who have ended up in jail as a result of their addiction receive treatment and access the services that they need to be better moms, dads, sons, daughters, employees and neighbors,” Thorp said.

Major Dan Mason, jail administrator for the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, said he supports programs that will reduce the jail population and recidivism rates.

“Mental health issues and the opioid epidemic have the jail overcrowded. If people can get help for these issues while in jail, and then continue on that path to keep themselves out, that would do a lot for them personally, and for the jail,” Mason said. “The answer isn’t always incarceration, sometimes it is treatment, for people who meet certain criteria. If there are medical needs to be treated, they should be treated. They shouldn’t be taking up space in jail when there are criminals who should be in that cell.”

Santamas said he is interviewing candidates for the peer support position with people Thorp has recommended. Once a few candidates have been narrowed, sometime in the next week or two, Santamas will hold another round of interviews with Mason.

The peer supporter also will help implement some 12-step programs to augment the programs existing already in the jail, Santamas said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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