Sheriff’s Office starts new effort to help addicts transition from jail to community

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 June 2016 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Michael Santoro, an inmate in the Orleans County Jail, has been drug-free for about nine months after four years of using cocaine and heroin. He is pictured with Jail Superintendent Scott Wilson, left, and Sheriff Randy Bower.

ALBION – Scott Wilson has worked 20 years in the Orleans County Jail. The jail superintendent has seen the repetitive cycle with many inmates coming in for drug offenses, or drug-fueled crimes such as burglaries. They are in jail often for a few months to a year, and then are released only to commit new crimes because of the strong pull of their addictions.

Wilson said these residents never quite get control of their drug demons, leading to years of criminal conduct and time in the county jail at taxpayer expense.

“Right now there is a very high recidivism,” Wilson said Thursday at the jail on Platt Street.

A new program has started this week in the county jail to help break that pattern of drug addiction and crime. The jail will offer Vivitrol, an injection that blocks the effects of opioids, a powerful narcotic. (The drug manufacturer is making the first injection available for free at the jail.)

The Sheriff’s Office has teamed with the Genesee-Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse to have Vivitrol available for six months after an inmate leaves the jail. The monthly injections when an inmate is released from jail will likely be covered by health insurance programs at $800 per injection, Wilson said.

GCASA also will have counselors to help released inmates transition into the community. GCASA recently opened transitional housing for residents fighting addictions. That transitional shelter is next to the GCASA offices on Route 31 in Albion. That site puts addicts in a supportive community where they are urged to stay drug-free.

Sheriff Randy Bower, Wilson and GCASA staff will screen soon-to-be released inmates to determine if they will be in the new Sheriff’s Transitional Addiction Management Program or STAMP.

The Orleans County Mental Health Department also is part of the new effort. Wilson and Bower said three other counties in the state offer transitional programs for addicts. Bower believes Orleans is the first to have both addiction and mental health services available for inmates.

“These are people who made a mistake and can’t quit,” Bower said. “These are people from our community that come to our jail. We need to give them the best opportunity to not come back to us.”

Bower said he is pleased to see the support for the program from jail staff, GCASA, Mental Health and other county officials. Bower said more services have been needed in the jail to help drug-addicted residents. Bower said it will ultimately save taxpayer money, should reduce crime, and improve the lives of addicts and their loved ones.

Michael Santoro will be released from the jail in two months. He is serving a six-month sentence for attempted burglary in the second degree. Santoro, 23, grew up in Medina.

He said he was addicted to heroin and cocaine for four years. He tried to quit by using prescription narcotics such as Methadone and Suboxone, which are used as painkillers. Santoro said he still had powerful drug cravings when he used Methadone and Suboxone.

He was constantly thinking about his next drug fix until he entered a drug treatment late last year and received a Vivitrol injection. Vivitrol took the cravings away by blocking the pull of opioids. Santoro said Vivitrol has been a key in helping him stay off drugs.

“I would recommend it to anyone who wants to be clean,” Santoro said Thursday while in the jail. “But you have to want it.”

Santoro admits he was a mess last August when he entered the jail after being arrested for a break-in in Ridgeway. Santoro was down to 140 pounds.

“Addiction, it destroys you mentally, physically and spiritually,” he said.

He went through withdrawal in jail, spending 55 days behind bars before entering a 28-day drug treatment program in Buffalo. That was when he was given Vivitrol to help fight the addictions.

“It was the first time in four years I didn’t go mentally insane,” Santoro said. “I could go all month without thinking about drugs. It worked wonders for me.”

Santoro now weighs about 180 pounds, up 40 pounds from last August. He is enrolled at Erie Community College and wants to be a drug abuse counselor. He moved to Cheektowaga because he said he needed to change his surroundings to not fall back into the trap of addiction. (Last month he was sentenced for the attempted burglary and has two months left in jail.)

Wilson and Bower see Santoro as a success story. They want to him to be an example to other addicts, to show the turnaround that is possible in fighting addictions.

Bower said an addict needs to hit rock bottom, and want to change. He will personally interview people who want to be in new program through the jail.

The sheriff and Wilson, the jail superintendent, said the program will be modified as they see what works and what needs improvement. Bower said the addicts now have the support services in place to help them when they are released from jail.

“The big thing is the hand-off from when they leave the jail,” Bower said.

Return to top