Safer inside the jail?

I read a story online this morning entitled “Prison was the only place this addict was safe.” It told the story of the struggle of addictions and the danger on the streets today – Fentanyl.

The Opioid Epidemic is frequently on the news today. Yesterday an official from New Hampshire spoke about the high numbers of deaths related to this epidemic and the need for more dollars to support treatment options. The same day Trump called for the death penalty for drug dealers. Another story this morning in the local news announced the fourth in a series of public meetings about how this epidemic impacts the local community. These public meetings are organized by the local Kiwanis.

I joined the efforts of this committee last fall. I joined the efforts after the women in my group inside the local county jail said that they were safer inside the jail and were afraid to be released. I have been working inside the jail for almost ten years. It is only in the past six months that the women talked about death. It in only in the past six months that three women who were part of my group died upon release from an overdose.

One of these deaths was within the past month. I attended her memorial service. The room was standing room only with family and friends. I witnessed through stories and photographs the life of a woman who was a mother, daughter, friend, artist, musician, and kind human being. A woman who had spoken in my group of continuing her education and plan for her future. A woman whose life ended early because of her addiction.

Sadly, it may be true that these women are safer inside the jail. Outside their struggle with addictions can lead to death. Fentanyl is a dangerous substance that is added to heroin. The heroin addictions started as a result of different circumstances but almost always related to pain. In the media today we hear about the opioids that were prescribed by doctors for physical pain. In my groups, I hear about the self-medicating practices of women who have experienced emotional pain most times related to the trauma in their lives.

As a society, in our conversations about how to deal with the opioid epidemic we need to address the issues of pain. Pain that is usually experienced in isolation and shame. We need to build more inclusive communities with a focus on healing. Although, I agree that the women are physically safer inside the jail, I witness each day the trauma that this incarceration creates for the women. I witness women who are medicated by the medical professionals inside the jail to “help them” deal with depression and anxiety. I witness women who sometimes when the meds come during my group session become almost like zombies thirty minutes later.

There must be a better way. In our conversations about dealing with this opioid epidemic we must include an increase in the funding for treatment, the education of the public about addictions, and an awareness and lessening of the shame rather than the tougher enforcement of drug laws. Indeed, the women and others may be safer inside the jails but truly they should not be locked up in the first place.

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