Jails Slow to Help Addicted Inmates with Craving-Reducing Medication

Many jails are slow to help inmates with substance abuse issues. They are just starting to offer medications to help control cravings. Most jails only dispense one of the drugs approved for this purpose. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is considered the standard treatment approach for opioid addiction. Buprenorphine and methadone are prescribed to treat withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. Naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids, and can also reduce cravings. This medication can also be used to treat alcoholism. Approximately 220 of more than 3,000 jails across the US make naltrexone available to inmates. In most instances, the medication is offered to those who are about to be released. Only about 20 jails offer buprenorphine or methadone.

Cost One of the Barriers to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Experts say barriers to using medications to treat addiction are cost and the long-held belief that total abstinence is the way to attain sobriety. They point out that addiction doesn’t resolve itself because the affected person isn’t using drugs regularly. Many inmates with addiction issues will start using on release if they don’t get appropriate treatment. A doctor must obtain a special license to distribute buprenorphine and methadone, which may not be easy for a physician working in a jail to acquire. These medications should be continued on a long-term basis to be an effective long-term drug treatment solution. For inmates transitioning to life outside of jail, the change can be challenging enough without keeping track of medications. Many offenders who have recently been released have little support from family or friends.

MAT Can Help Reduce Relapses, Return to Custody

According to experts, offering opioid addiction treatment to jail inmates could help to address the opioid epidemic, since offenders may be less likely to use drugs after their release. Some research studies have shown MAT is effective at reducing relapses and the likelihood of returning to jail. The results of a small study on MAT with inmates in Rhode Island found that opioid overdose deaths among newly released offenders dropped by 60 percent.