Jails seeing increases in inmates, prescription drug costs

Published: Aug. 8, 2023 at 5:33 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Prescription drugs in county jails are becoming more expensive and there are more inmates who need them. We looked into what this means for county sheriff’s departments and the taxpayer.

“Once they get committed to this facility or any facility in New York state, I’m mandated, the taxpayers are mandated to treat every medical ailment that comes up,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Barnett.

More and more of Barnett’s budget is going toward prescription drugs.

“At the end of this year, we are going to be upwards of $400,000 on that budget line,” he said.

A portion of the increase is attributed to the MAT program - Medication-Assisted Treatment to help treat addiction. Sheriff Barnett says 50 of 175 inmates were getting treatment on Tuesday.

“Last year we spent about $160,000 on general prescriptions through Kinney’s (Kinney Drugs). This year we’re going to add an additional $240,000 to that number because that is what we pay for the MAT program,” he said.

Another reason it’s becoming more expensive is because there are more inmates. Twelve are being housed in other county jails as of Tuesday.

“It’s gone beyond addiction. They come in here with all kind of internal problems. Physical problems,” said Barnett.

Jefferson County isn’t alone. Back in May, the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators modified the county’s budget to add an additional $400,000 to its sheriff’s office for prescription drugs.

“From this time last year, we’re up 81 percent from year-to-year,” said Sheriff Brooks Bigwarfe.

He also cited more inmates and the MAT program as the reasons for the increase in costs.

“A yearly overall cost of about $480,000 for prescriptions for the MAT program which is mandated by the state,” he said.

Though it won’t be excessive, Sheriff Barnett says his department may have to start asking for more room in future budgets, more taxpayer money.