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Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association Endorses Methadone and Buprenorphine for People Behind Bars

Pennsylvania Sheriffs Partnering with Harm Reduction and Public Health Experts in Efforts to Reduce Overdose Deaths 

The Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association is formally endorsing treatment with methadone and buprenorphine for people behind bars in their on-going effort to reduce overdose deaths in Pennsylvania. The law enforcement group joins public health and harm reduction experts in calling for access to opioid agonist medications for people struggling with opioid use disorder. This effort is part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ $50 million investment to address the national opioid crisis in partnership with Vital Strategies, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Johns Hopkins University, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In 2017, over 70,000 Americans died of a drug overdose, and Pennsylvania’s rate of overdose deaths was more than double the national average. 

“As Sheriffs we have an opportunity to change lives and battle one of the worst public health issues of our time,” said Thomas Maioli, executive director of the Pennsylvania Sherriff’s Association. “Our jails can become places to engage, educate, and treat those with substance use disorders — ultimately saving lives, reducing recidivism and putting people on the path to recovery.” 

Two thirds of people in jail meet the criteria for drug dependence or abuse, according to reports from The Bureau of Justice Statistics. Many of these individuals have an opioid use disorder (OUD) and would benefit from medications to assist in their recovery. However, the vast majority of jails and prisons in the country do not offer buprenorphine and methadone to people with OUD who have been incarcerated, despite the fact that these medications represent the standard of care for effectively managing this chronic condition.

“People who are incarcerated are at great risk for overdose when they are released from prison and jail,” said Daliah Heller, Director of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies, a global health organization working to address the overdose epidemic in Pennsylvania and other states in the US. “Law enforcement advocacy for access to these medications in detention settings will help save lives: when people get treatment with buprenorphine or methadone during incarceration, their vulnerability to overdose upon release is reduced, and they are far more likely to access treatment in the community.”

The Sheriffs’ Association is partnering with the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition (PAHRC) and Vital Strategies in an effort to promote the adoption of harm reduction strategies among law enforcement in Pennsylvania. The project includes the delivery of trainings for law enforcement across the state, providing guidance and education on substance use disorder, and harm reduction strategies to reduce overdose deaths and facilitate linkages to services and treatment. 

“Our bottom line is saving lives,” said Devin Reaves of the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition. “We are thrilled to be leading trainings with law enforcement to ensure the health, well-being and safety of our communities is prioritized.” 

In July, the Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association 97th Annual Conference in Erie featured a panel on effective, public health and safety approaches towards overdose and the importance of law enforcement leadership and support for harm reduction interventions. 

Since 2017, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) have supported expanding buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone to all correctional settings.  

“The Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association fully supports opioid agonist treatment as an evidence- based strategy to reduce overdose deaths,” said President of the Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association, Tim Chamberlain of Columbia County. “We believe a focus on the health and wellness of the individual will lead to a new path forward by improving lives and the safety of our communities. 

In July, Vital Strategies announced the first projects in Pennsylvania as part of a $10 million commitment to strengthen that state’s ability to respond to the overdose epidemic. This effort is part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ $50 million investment to address the national opioid crisis. 

Media contacts:

Tony Newman (Vital Strategies) +1-646-335-5384
Thomas Maioli (Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association) +1-717-592-8533

About the Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association 

The Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association is dedicated to preserving the time honored Office of Sheriff in Pennsylvania.We are dedicated to assisting our sixty-seven County Sheriffs in acquiring the education and training required for law enforcement officers.

About Vital Strategies 

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our programs reach into 73 countries and help prevent death and illness from noncommunicable disease, reduce harm caused by environmental factors, and support cities as engines for public health. We consult with governments on issues including restricting junk food marketing to kids, promoting smoke-free laws, improving indoor and outdoor air quality, and strengthening road safety. These are protections that can add up to millions of lives saved. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change.

To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.