CLEARFIELD – Dr. Lawrence Levinson addressed the Clearfield County Prison Board yesterday during the monthly meeting held at the Clearfield County Jail.
He spoke about some of the issues currently facing the jail right now and made some suggestions for the board to consider.
Levinson is the jail physician and has held that post since 1996. He explained that he is a trained internist and had a clinic from 1983 until 2015 and now has several positions, including working as an investigator for pharmaceutical companies.
He is an addiction specialist, having been certified in 2006, and has several other certifications through the federal government. Since 2015, he has worked in his dedicated addiction practice.
Levinson said he has seen a major change in the inmate population in the past three to five years regarding the medical needs of drug-addicted inmates with a surge in what he called “poly-pharmacy abuse,” which is abuse of two or more drugs at a time. This results in multiple health problems.
Opioid addicts make up a large number of the prisoners, and Levinson said he and the staff are working on helping these inmates by creating “comfort packs,” which are designed to help treat the symptoms of withdrawal.
Levinson especially complimented the nurse on staff, whom he noted is a registered nurse with a background in emergency and critical care medicine.
But, he said, she is overworked and his first suggestion was for the board to look into another employee to help her with some of the paperwork and confirmations needed from pharmacies and doctors.
He said ultimately this would result in a cost savings for the jail by taking pressure from the staff and allowing the nurse to focus on medical care.
Another problem, Levinson said, he is seeing is in regards to the recidivism rate of inmates, who are released and then arrested again on similar charges, usually involving drugs.
He talked about a drug named Vivitrol, originally created to help alcoholics but has been shown to have an even better effect in blocking the effects of opioid drugs and reducing cravings.
Levinson said he has talked with the drug company and can get some doses free of charge to treat some inmates.
The jail would need to select those patients carefully for initial treatment. The best would be ones who are ready to break the cycle of addiction and follow up with treatment outside of the jail.
Another promising drug that appears work as well, if not better, is Suboxone. Levinson said he would like to look into bringing a clinical trial of the drug to CCJ with the intention of helping inmates break the addiction cycle and regain the lives they have lost.
President Judge Fredric Ammerman asked some questions about Levinson’s report. He asked first if the proposed employee to help the nurse would need to be full- or part-time, and if they would need a medical background.
Levinson said a part-time employee would help the situation and they would not have to have medical training. However, several board members noted that having someone with a medical background would be a plus.
Ammerman also asked about cocaine, and both Levinson and Warden Greg Collins said they don’t see that as being as big of a problem as opioids or methamphetamine. Sometimes inmates might test for it, but usually they don’t use it as heavily as other drugs.
Earlier in the meeting, Ammerman had noted that the board has long known that medical care for inmates would ultimately be a huge expenditure for CCJ, and part of that reason is the drug use.
He noted that with drug use comes increased dental problems. Levinson, in his talk, added that with increased drug use they are also seeing increased need for medical care at Penn Highlands Clearfield hospital.
In other business, the board learned that the jail is in full compliance after a recent state inspection.
“I don’t think, from the state, you can get a better letter than that,” Ammerman said, referring to the letter from the Department of Corrections.
Commissioner Mark McCracken added that the inspectors don’t just “rubber stamp” the reports but do a thorough job looking into every aspect of a jail’s operations.
Under the warden’s report, the board learned that CCJ started the month of August with 146 inmates, committed 154 and released 147. The average daily population was 153 and August ended with 154 inmates.
Collins said there are currently five Clearfield County inmates housed in Jefferson County and if they can get the population down into the 140s, CCJ can bring those five back. Also, the jail began with four on work release, with three added and four paroled.