May 8, 2024 - News

Chesterfield is the first jail in the U.S. to use a battery-powered opioid withdrawal treatment

a normal looking building that is a jail

The Chesterfield jail. Image: Courtesy of Chesterfield County

Chesterfield County Jail is reportedly the first in the U.S. to use a device on incarcerated people that sends electrical pulses through the brain to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Why it matters: It's another example of how, as the addiction crisis gets worse, jails and prisons have become de facto substance use treatment providers — which they were never meant to be.

The big picture: The FDA-approved device, nicknamed the Bridge, has previously faced criticism from some advocates and providers who say there is limited evidence showing it works.

  • The studies available have small sample sizes, including the clinical study the FDA reviewed that had 73 participants and one last year that had 16.
  • But proponents have said there are also limited options to helping patients through withdrawal, which a person has to go through before starting OUD treatment like Suboxone.
  • The fear of withdrawal, which can be fatal, can prompt someone to continue using drugs to avoid it, Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard told WRIC.
the side profile of a woman wearing the device which wraps around her ear.
What the device looks like. Photo: Courtesy of Masimo

How it works: The device, which the FDA approved in 2017, has a battery-powered chip that's placed behind a patient's ear like a hearing aid.

  • It can be used for up to five days in the initial withdrawal period right after a person stops using drugs, which can be the most brutal with symptoms like vomiting, muscle aches and anxiety.
  • While it doesn't eliminate the symptoms, the device can make the process easier, the jail's director of mental health Kerri Rhodes told WRIC.

What we're watching: How many people in Chesterfield's jail end up using the device and whether it helps more incarcerated individuals seek medication-assisted treatment.

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