PORTLAND, Ore. — The Multnomah County Jail is about to become the first in the greater Portland area to give away naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote, to any inmate who wants it as they leave the jail.

The cost to inmates is free. Sheriff Mike Reese said the purpose is simple.

“We’re trying to save lives,” he said in a written statement.

“Our goal in public safety is to support the rehabilitation of adults in custody,” Reese said.

The Multnomah County Health Department found the risk of dying from an overdose is 15 times higher during the first week out of jail. It’s because the person's body no longer tolerates the amount of drugs they took before jail.

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Deputies know Naloxone works.

“We've used it on the road. We've used it in the jail and we believe that helping out, helping give this drug out to the public, will help save lives,” said Sgt. Brandon White with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office.

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Inmates will be given a container with two doses, two needles and paperwork on how to use and inject the drug.

Tarra McCarthy, a recovering heroin addict, works at 4th Dimension Recovery helping others. She's used the drug to save lives.

"It’s always a really scary event when it happens but without that medication those people would have died in my arms. And I’ve been able to save three people's lives using Naloxone,” she said. 

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Not everyone thinks the jail give away is a great idea. Several Facebook commenters were critical, arguing the giveaway will encourage or enable more drug use. But others support the idea, saying it's better than nothing.

McCarthy said it will not enable users because they will shoot up no matter what. 

“I know from experience, until you are ready for recovery, there's not a lot that can stop you. But there are some measures we can take to keep people safe and keep people from dying,” she said. 

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury helped change state law to allow anyone to use Naloxone six years ago. She's solidly behind the giveaway at the jail.

“When someone is an addict, again it’s a disease. It’s not something anybody chooses to have and if there's something we can do to save their life, and then get them into treatment, we've done a good thing,” Kafoury said.

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