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National Coalition Recognizes Corrections Secretary John Wetzel for Innovative Effort to Treat Substance Use Disorder in Prisons


Harrisburg, PA – Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel was recognized by a national drug abuse awareness coalition for leading the effort to transform the way prisons address substance use disorder.

Earlier this month, Wetzel was one of six individuals honored by the Addiction Policy Forum at a ceremony in Washington D.C. with the 2017 Pillar of Excellence award. The annual award recognizes work across the country in the six pillars of a comprehensive response to addiction (prevention, treatment, recovery, overdose reversal, law enforcement, and criminal justice reform).
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has been a leader nationally in addressing the opioid crisis by greatly expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for the growing number of inmates struggling with substance use disorders.
In the past 10 years the number of individuals entering prison with opioid use disorder (OUD) has doubled from six percent to 12 percent.
In 2012, the DOC launched a pilot program to provide Vivitrol - a medication that reduces drug cravings and blocks the “high” of drugs and alcohol - to women inmates with substance use disorder at SCI Muncy. The program has now expanded to 11 other prisons. Treatment is continued through Medical Assistance when the individual moves into the community.
 “I am very proud of these accomplishments, but they could not have occurred without the dedication and forward-looking approach of the DOC staff, so this award is for them,” said Wetzel. “More than 65 percent of DOC’s population struggle with substance use disorder. With successful treatment at every step of the way we can be confident that they leave as healthier individuals, better prepared for success in the community.”
"Secretary Wetzel was awarded the 2017 Pillar of Excellence award for the innovative work being done within Pennsylvania corrections to bring treatment to those in custody struggling with substance use disorders,” said Jessica Nickel, president of the Addiction Policy Forum. “Providing medication assisted treatment and the needed follow up during reentry is a game changer in how states can improve treatment outcomes and end the cycle of recidivism so often fueled by addiction."
The Addiction Policy Forum is a diverse partnership of organizations, policymakers, and stakeholders committed to working together to elevate awareness around addiction and to improve national policy through a comprehensive response that includes prevention, treatment, recovery, and criminal justice reform.
The Forum was a driving force behind the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). The bipartisan legislation, signed by President Obama in July 2016, authorizes $181 million annually to fight the opioid epidemic. It recognizes the need to treat addiction like a disease through evidence-based practices such as medication assisted and individualized treatment.
The act supports community-based prevention efforts and long-term, robust recovery support and expands access to naloxone that reverses overdoses and saves lives. The act also helps educate prescribers and helps law enforcement divert individuals who are struggling with a substance use disorder so that they can be treated in their communities instead of in the criminal justice system.
MEDIA CONTACT: Amy Worden, 717-728-4026
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