Harm reduction efforts at Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC) prevent overdose deaths

September 19, 2023
Vending machine supplying free Narcan now up and running at LMDC

The Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC) has added another harm reduction measure to prevent fatal overdoses. A vending machine filled with free naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, is now in the jail's exit lobby. People leaving LMDC can access the overdose reversal medication that has already saved lives within the correctional facility.

“Jails have a disproportionate number of people with substance use, mental health and co-occurring disorders. Research has shown that approximately 65% of the United States’ carceral population has an active substance use disorder,” said Dr. Mariya Leyderman, executive administrator and chief psychologist at LMDC. “A harm reduction approach creates an effective mechanism to provide treatment and services to individuals while in custody and upon reentry into the community. De-stigmatizing and recognizing the underlying root causes of criminal involvement allows for correctional agencies to both reduce drug use and crime after people return to the community. Ultimately, jails must be innovative and re-imagine the services provided, particularly considering the public health crisis surrounding substance use.”

The vending machine is made possible by the University of Kentucky’s HEALing Communities Study (HCS), which has invested in this project by purchasing the harm reduction vending machine and supplying it with the initial 300 units of Narcan.

“HEALing Communities Study believes all people should have the opportunity to save a life,” said Michael Goetz, implementation facilitator with HCS. “People who are incarcerated are most at-risk for accidental opioid overdose as tolerance is reduced during incarceration. With the goal of reducing opioid overdose deaths in Louisville and across Kentucky, HCS views access to naloxone upon release from LMDC as an ideal time to offer this life-saving medication. A harm reduction vending machine is a powerful tool to combat the opioid overdose epidemic.”

“A goal of this study is to develop sustainable solutions to address the opioid epidemic that can be scaled up,” said Dr. Carrie Oser, professor at the University of Kentucky and co-investigator on the HCS. “LMDC’s vending machine is a model program and we hope other jails across the commonwealth will follow their lead.”

Later, the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness (LMPHW) will likely add other harm reduction tools like wound care kits, fentanyl test strips and safer sex supplies to the vending machine.

Narcan available in LMDC is saving lives

In September of last year, Narcan was placed in all 51 dorms at LMDC. Since this program launched, 24 overdoses have been reversed by people who are incarcerated. Funding for this project came from federal American Rescue Plan funds that were earmarked to address the city’s overdose crisis. Data indicate that people closest in proximity to someone who is experiencing an overdose are best situated to reverse that overdose, and in a medical emergency involving respiratory distress every second counts. Many incarcerated people have experience responding to and reversing overdoses of friends and family members in the community, so they are invaluable partners in efforts to save lives in the jail.  Overdose education and naloxone distribution is an evidence-based best practice for reducing overdose anywhere, and this project adds to that evidence base.

“These life-saving initiatives provide resources that help our residents take care of themselves and others, which is essential to advancing public health and health equity,” said Ben Goldman, community health administrator at Public Health and Wellness “It is inspiring to see our federal, state, and local governments come together to invest in harm reduction and proudly declare that nobody in Louisville deserves to die from an overdose or drug poisoning.”

MORE program leading incarcerated individuals on a road to recovery

LMDC is not only working to prevent overdoses but is also providing a continuum of care for its residents, with a focus on treatment and mental health. The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness’ Medication Oriented Recovery and Enhancement (MORE) program helps people with opioid use disorder housed at the jail and in the home incarceration program by providing medication treatment and counseling. The services are not only provided while they are serving time, but also once they are released to help them continue a path to recovery.

To learn more about harm reduction efforts in Louisville Metro visit our Harm Reduction Outreach Services page on louisvilleky.gov.

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Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness (LMPHW) is a nationally accredited, independent, academic health department committed to achieving health equity and improving the health and well-being of all Louisville residents and visitors.   


The University of Kentucky’s HEALing Communities Study (HCS) aims to test the impact of an integrated set of evidence-based practices for preventing and treating opioid use disorder (OUD) at the local level. This multi-site study funded by the NIH and the SAMHSA involves collaborating with local community coalitions on implementing evidence-based practices across healthcare, behavioral health, justice, and community-based settings to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths.

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