Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard is defending his decision not to apply for state Medically Assisted Treatment, or MAT, funding. 

The grant money is designed to supply inmates battling drug addiction with medication like methadone and suboxone.

The Niagara County jail applied for, and a received, a $50,000 grant and launched the program this past Monday.

Howard said the Erie County Holding Center does offer Vivitrol to help addicts curb their addiction, and sends inmates who need additional treatment to ECMC.

"Offering government resources to continue with an addiction does not strike me as the best approach,” Howard said. “We've gone from drug prevention efforts to supplying drugs for the individual that has chosen to continue to live a life of drug addiction. And I just don't think that's justice and good for society.”

Jails in Cattaraugus and Orleans Counties also did not receive MAT funding.

The Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force met recently and rolled out new Narcan emergency kits, which will be placed in large venues like restaurants, bars and college campuses.

The kits are just another weapon in the county's arsenal to combat addiction. 

Leaders said there a number of treatment options and programs across the county for those who need it.

When asked about the MAT funding and their reaction to the Erie County Holding Center's refusal to apply for it, Erie County Commissioner of Health Gale Burstein issued the following statement:

Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is widely accepted in the medical community, mental health community and criminal justice community as the most effective treatment and the standard of care for the chronic disease of opioid use disorder.

At a roundtable discussion in October with the Joint NYS Senate Task Force on Opioids, Addiction & Overdose Prevention, I made the point that the largest gap in our community substance use disorder treatment is lack of MAT in Erie County Corrections. This intentional withholding of prescribed medication detrimentally affects inmates in the Erie County Holding Center and Alden Correctional Facility.

There is no other chronic medical condition – not diabetes, high blood pressure or COPD – for which withholding prescribed medication is accepted. However, that is Erie County Correctional Health’s current practice.

The National Sheriffs’ Association and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care strongly recommend MAT in all correctional facilities and offer guidance and resources to implement this treatment. Incarcerated inmates who are not allowed to continue their prescribed MAT are extremely vulnerable to suffering relapse, overdose and death during and after incarceration. Our department hopes that the Erie County Sheriff’s Office reconsiders its position on withholding MAT from inmates, and we remain ready to support them in making that critical shift in medical care and in pursuing available funding.