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Sheriff: New program will support opioid-addicted inmates after release

Sheriff Tom Dart points to a graph showing the rate of opioid overdoses among about 40 addicted offenders who were released from the Cook County Jail in 2014 and 2015. Nearly half suffered an overdose within two weeks of release. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

Erica Cudia has been in and out of the Cook County Jail many times, cycling through on a two-decade long string of arrests tied to an opioid addiction that began when she was 17. On Friday, she hopes to leave the justice system, and her addiction, behind once and for all.

The West Side resident on Wednesday thanked a growing roster of jail-based drug treatment and counseling programs and a new program that will allow her caseworkers from the jail to continue to work with her on the outside.

“It’s actually a miracle. I actually got it this time. I’m very proud of myself,” said Cudia, who hopes to begin a 30-day stint in a community treatment center after a hearing in Drug Court on Thursday.

Her release on her latest arrest comes after 90 days in the jail’s Thrive program and 30 days in a newly announced program in which sheriff’s staff will monitor her progress in a modified version of the sheriff’s electronic monitoring program.

At a press conference Wednesday, Sheriff Tom Dart announced the start of a program that will target 30 to 40 of approximately 200 jail inmates who are in treatment for addiction at the jail and are set for release or on bond. The target population will be offenders who are not already among those in the county’s drug court program.

Sheriff Tom Dart talks to reporters Wednesday at a press conference to announce the launch of a new electronic monitoring program that will support addicted offenders even after they’re released from the jail. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

“The notion that somebody coming in to our custody who has opioid issues can then be released, and you can expect that they’re going to go on and not have issues with opioid again is beyond naïve,” Dart said at a press conference Wednesday inside the jail.

The sheriff tracked opioid-addicted inmates who had been released from the jail in 2014 to 2015, and found more than 40 had died of overdoses, nearly half within two weeks of being released. In 2017 and 2016, 18 people overdosed while on electronic monitoring.

The sheriff’s office has begun offering departing inmates naloxone, a drug used to reverse overdoses, and said ongoing treatment could further help reduce overdoses. There were 999 deaths from opioid overdoses in Cook County in 2017, an 83 percent increase from 2015, according to the Sheriff’s Office. One out of five inmates at the jail admit to “opioid abuse,” and a more than a third of opioid-related overdoses were recorded in the Chicago suburbs.