The majority of inmates at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections are dealing with some form of substance abuse. The state is already a leader when it comes to drug treatment behind bars, but now their role in a new program out of UMass Medical School is hoping to help improve that work even more.

The University is working with four different correctional systems including Rhode Island's to develop a screening and treatment model that can be used nationwide.

"This is something that consumes your entire life," said a 23–year–old inmate at the ACI in Cranston who only identified himself as Mark.

Mark is taking part in a program aimed at getting inmates struggling with opioid addictions clean. It is being monitored at part of the collaborative with UMass Medical School.

"I ended up using to such an extent that I ended up losing my leg. I was sniffing, snorting the Percocet's and I passed out one night and I cut off the circulation to my leg," said Mark. "By the time I got help it was to late."

Mark says losing his leg wasn't even enough to force him to stop using. It wasn't until he ended up here three months ago that he changed his tune.

"I'm back to feeling like my normal self. I feel really great," said Mark.

"What we are hoping is that these four systems will be able to provide us with the information that we need to help other sites across the country to start to treat addiction directly rather than just focusing on locking people up," said Dr. Warren Ferguson, the Director of Academic Programs in the Health and Criminal Justice Program at UMass Medical School.

Doctor Ferguson says treatment is far cheaper than jail. To put it in perspective, he says residential programs cost around $25,000 a year versus $55 to $65,000 per year in jail. Not to mention the fact that, once clean ex–cons are much less likely to commit another crime.

The medical programs director at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, Dr. Jennifer Clarke, explains that they currently offer three different drug–based treatment options for opioid addicts.

"We have accessible all FDA approved medications and that really sets us apart from many other facilities across the country," said Dr. Clarke.

Nationwide, 65 percent of inmates are struggling with substance abuse, but only 11 percent receive treatment while incarcerated.

Doctor Clarke agrees that a majority of Rhode Island’s inmates are struggling with some form of addiction. Fifteen to 20 percent of those incarcerated here have an opioid use disorder.

"We are really catching up with the times and starting people on treatment. People who need treatment we are giving them the medications that they need," said Dr. Clarke.

For the inmates themselves, this program and the efforts being taken by the UMass collaborative provide hope for recovery moving forward.

"I've already started my recovery and I'm ready to do this, 100%," said Mark.

(C) WLNE 2017