Norfolk County Sheriff Jerry P. McDermott recently joined his colleagues from the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association, legislators, advocates, researchers and federal officials at the Statehouse to announce the launch of an initiative providing expanded medication-assisted treatment options to those with opioid use disorder at correctional facilities in seven counties.

The pilot program formally launched on Sept. 1 in Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk and Suffolk counties following a year-long design and implementation process. As part of the pilot, individuals entering facilities in the seven counties on any of the three FDA-approved MAT regimens, buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone, will have the ability to continue their treatment regimen while incarcerated, unless determined otherwise by a qualified addiction specialist. Sentenced inmates not on a verified MAT regimen at the time of their commitment may also be evaluated for participation 30 days prior to their scheduled release.

“The Norfolk County House of Correction is pleased to implement the MAT Program,” said McDermott. “It is important that we utilize all the resources and methods at our disposal to combat this drug epidemic, which affects all of our communities, whether by addiction or crimes. This is a pioneering step in addressing these problems.”

In addition to collaboration across the participating offices, sheriffs also worked closely with the Baker-Polito administration on the implementation of the pilot which is a direct result of Chapter 208 of the Acts of 2018 signed with bipartisan support by Gov. Charlie Baker last summer. Building on this success of the STEP Act, the bill expanded the use of medication assisted treatment by requiring the Department of Public Health to implement a MAT pilot program in Houses of Correction no later than Sept. 1.

“This pilot program serves as another tool for law enforcement and public health leaders to explore ways to address the opioid epidemic,” said Baker. “While we have seen some progress, our work is never done and our administration will continue collaborating with law enforcement and other stakeholders to combat this public health crisis across the commonwealth.”

“Our administration is proud to have doubled investments in substance misuse and prevention across state agencies since 2015, and we continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to do all we can to address the opioid epidemic,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “This new pilot program represents another mechanism to pursue options for helping individuals with a substance use disorder get on a path to recovery.”

As part of a press conference, officials also highlighted the recent award of a five-year, $10 million federal grant to Baystate Medical Center through the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network. The grant is one of 12 nationwide that will support research on quality addiction treatment for OUD in criminal justice settings. Researchers from Baystate and UMass-Amherst will work with all seven counties to examine and study the pilot.