Growing up with parents who struggled with substance abuse, Samantha Burrow knows the perils of addiction.
“It pushed me not to go into drug use, and that’s what got me into this field,” said Burrow, a substance use disorder professional with local health care provider Valley Cities Behavioral Health. “I feel like I can relate.”
Burrow, 34, has worked in the field for about seven years, helping people in addiction rebuild their lives. Now, thanks to a grant-funded contract between Valley Cities and the City of Enumclaw, she’s been helping inmates directly at the Enumclaw jail for about a month.
A new partnership this year between the jail and Valley Cities has allowed Burrow to counsel inmates at the Enumclaw jail, helping them find housing when they get out, enroll in health insurance and lobby for treatment services as an alternative to more time in jail. Inmates also have access to a nurse practitioner who can write their prescriptions while they’re behind bars.
Unlike most police agencies, Enumclaw PD operates its own 25-bed jail in-house. In addition to Enumclaw, agencies like Buckley PD occasionally book arrestees in the jail. Because the facility is a misdemeanor jail, inmates don’t serve sentences longer than a single year.
But addiction doesn’t end when you’re behind bars.
“Let’s say someone’s actively using, and they get incarcerated for six months,” said Scott Stewart, program manager for Valley Cities’ Medication-Assisted Treatment and Community Health program. “It’s almost like you put them into suspended animation. … They oftentimes won’t have psychological cravings while they’re (incarcerated), but the moment they hit the street, those cravings come back. … All those problems are still there. The addiction still exists.”
So before an inmate leaves the jail, Burrow tries to improve those odds, like getting them a cell phone, an appointment with a medical provider, and even leaving them with extra doses of Suboxone so they don’t have a gap in their medication.
Before, jail staff were doing the work Burrow now oversees with inmates. But it’s not fair to expect officers to be social workers and case managers, Stewart said. Plus, inmates might trust someone like Burrow to talk about their problems more than an officer with a badge and a gun.
“I’m quick to tell people … that even though you see me on this side, I could as easily be in your shoes,” Burrow said. “I can relate to some of the things your experiencing and going through.”
“YOU CAN WIN”
Enumclaw PD Commander Tony Ryan estimates that at least 80 percent of the jail population has asked for help with some form of addiction.
Inmate Colin Burch, currently one month into serving a year-long sentence for a domestic violence case, said in an interview that he’s had long stretches of his life without trouble.
But “every time I use (drugs), I get in trouble,” he said.
“Things happened when I was younger, and I turned to alcohol and drugs around middle school,” Burch said. “I can honestly tell you I’ve never been in trouble in my life sober, if that says anything about it.”
He’s had an off-and-on methamphetamine addiction throughout his life, and at 28 he smoked heroin for the first time. He figured he could keep it under control, “but that’s not what happened,” Burch, 40, said.
Most recently, he was using “blues” — or counterfeit opioid pills containing fentanyl, a synthetic opioid around 50 times stronger than heroin.
“The way things were going in my life, I was playing with that loaded gun, basically,” Burch said. “They’re out there, they’re highly addictive and they’re ruining lives.”
Burch said staff at the Enumclaw Jail have been good about recognizing his addiction, and being able to go from the jail into inpatient treatment “gives (him) hope.”
“I think the most important thing is that treatment is the better course of action than jail, (at least) for people who want it,” Burch said. “Because when you’re in jail, it’s stagnant time. You’re just waiting … I guess I’m glad I’m in a jail where treatment is held in a higher regard as a form of rehabilitation.”
That treatment often takes the form of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) programs. In essence, those programs can help set patients up with drugs like Methadone and Suboxone that curb the cravings or withdrawal symptoms they have from heroin, morphine, alcohol and other drugs.
They can be part of an addicted persons’ off-ramp from drug abuse — or a safer, controlled way of managing the addiction long-term.
Methadone, for example, is an opioid painkiller like heroin that can have powerful and addictive effects. When used in a controlled and careful treatment plan, it can blunt the cravings and withdrawal symptoms of opioid abuse without giving the euphoric rush associated with opioid abuse.
Suboxone, meanwhile, combines an opioid called buprenorphine with an opioid blocker called naloxone. That first ingredient, like methadone, helps curb cravings and withdrawal, and naloxone can “shut out” opioids from affecting the user at all. That way, it’s difficult for a suboxone user to overdose, since the drug itself contains its own opioid reverser.
As Burch, the inmate, puts it: “The thing about Suboxone is, if you’re taking it properly, having the doses given to you to (avoid) withdrawal, you can win.”
“THE REAL, FULL THEM”
Burrow is now building off the existing programs MAT and MOUD programs that jail staff started a couple years ago.
But one of the most valuable things she can offer inmates is hope.
“People get in this hole … and they’re masking their feelings, negative thoughts about themselves, so they’re using (drugs), just throwing a band-aid over it,” Burrow said. “I love being able to help people, to draw out their strengths and point them out when they don’t see it themselves. I love the fact that I can help people get back to their families, and be the full, real them.”
The program is still in its infancy, so they’re “laying the pavement as we go,” Burrow said. She hopes the program expands and other jails roll out similar offerings for inmates. The grant is good for two years, Stewart said, and there’s a “good likelihood” it could be extended further based on how successful the program is.
Burch is one month into a year-long sentence, but he has a review in two months that could get him out earlier and into in-patient treatment. He worked in logging before his latest stint in jail and said he’s looking to get back into that industry.
Knowing Burrow managed to beat the odds gives Burch hope that he can do the same.
“Coming in, I don’t think ‘God, I can’t wait to get out there to use (again),” Burch said of the jail. “I’m thinking, ‘When I get out of here, what can I do to make sure that I don’t use again?’ ”
Help is available for people struggling with addiction.
King County provides mental health services for low-income people in need. To learn more or to inquire for substance use disorder and detox services, call 206-263-8997. The county’s 24-hour crisis line is 206-461-3222. In an emergency, call 911.
For more information on Valley Cities’ MATCH program, which offers help to people struggling with opioid abuse, call 253-833-7444.