Program Uses Drugs To Address Inmates’ Addictions

Despite the fact that many of the incarcerated used opioids before being arrested, the criminal justice system has been wary of dispensing addiction-fighting medications.

About one in five prison or jail inmates used heroin or opioids regularly before being locked up, Kaiser Health News reports. That places those institutions in a unique position to steer inmates toward rehabilitation, and a new program by the Department of Justice is taking steps in that direction. Three drugs are used to treat opioid addiction: buprenorphine and methadone treat withdrawal and reduce cravings, while naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids. “But cost and a long-standing belief that the best way to overcome addiction is abstinence are barriers to using any type of medication to help treat opioid addiction…," KHN reports. 

Not many jails use drug treatment for opioid addiction. About 220 of more than 3,000 jails in the nation offer inmates naltrexone. Meanwhile, Andrew Klein, the DOJ official who is overseeing the new program, tells KHN that only about 20 jails offer methadone or buprenorphine.  

“Though few jails dispense medications to treat addiction, experts say they expect that to change over time,” KHN reports. “The American Society of Addiction Medicine and the American Correctional Association issued a joint statement in February supporting the use of medications behind bars and making specific recommendations on screening, treatment and release.”