Bridgeway Milestone project seeks to reduce overdose deaths of inmates coming out of jail
Studies show that the risk of death among inmates immediately following their release from jail or prison is more than 3.5 times higher than that of the general population, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The number one cause of that mortality rate is drug overdose, a statistic the staff of the Bridgeway Milestone Project are hoping to change for inmates coming out of St. Louis City jails. The Milestone Project is part of the substance use disorder program operated by Bridgeway, a division of Preferred Family Healthcare, in the St. Louis area. The program is offered at the Bridgeway location on Dunnica Avenue in south St. Louis. "The statistics are startling," said Stacy Glenn, vice president of substance use services in St. Louis City. "The risk of death is incredibly high." She explained that in many cases one of the first things a former inmate does after getting out of jail is return to using drugs. "Unfortunately, depending upon how long they were in jail, their tolerance level for the drug is now much lower," she said. "And, in the past few years, we've seen the drugs become more potent, with some drug dealers adding other drugs, such as fentanyl, to recreational drugs. These inmates are not prepared for the change in the drug, along with their lowered tolerance. With the milestone project, we are hoping to get these inmates into our program and in recovery before they have that first use." Glenn said the clients in the program are referred to them by the St. Louis County Justice Center. She said all the inmates have been ordered by the St. Louis County Judicial Courts System to participate in a 90-day substance abuse recovery program while in jail. When these inmates are ready to be released from jail, representatives of the Milestone Project meet with them to encourage them to enroll in the Milestone program. "Our goal is to help transition them from life behind bars to our treatment program and, eventually, full integration back in to the community," she explained. As part of the program, they offer medication assisted drug treatment and modified medical detox, along with traditional support services, such as individual and group rehabilitation and education. The program also has a nurse practitioner and a health navigator on staff to help the clients access the medical care they need. "With the nurse practitioner on staff, each client is immediately given a medical exam to determine if they have any health issues," Glenn said. "Many of the people coming out of jail have untreated medical conditions, some of which were brought on by their drug use. High blood pressure, respiratory problems, heart and liver disease, or hepatitis are just some examples." The health navigator is there to help connect the clients to medical care and services available in the community. Setting up female clients with mammograms is one example of how they help. The project was started in late 2013 with a grant provided by Missouri Foundation for Health. Funding ran out in 2016, but Glenn said they believed there was so much value in what they were offering, Preferred Family Health made the decision to continue the program with the exact same services. This year, the program will be partially funded by grants provided by the Lutheran Foundation for St. Louis, Missouri Foundation for Health (Integration of Treatment and Medicine), and the Mental Health Board (Recovery Enhancement Grant).