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.
Women inmates are sitting in prisons and jails across the country with more instances of addiction than ever before. A new report, released by the government shows that 69% of female state prisoners and 72% of female jail prisoners are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. These rates are higher than the male population and higher than the average U.S. population as well.
It turns out, according to the study, that women inmates have higher rates of addiction but they also have higher rates of depression and anxiety that their male counterparts, problems that oftentimes lead to drug abuse. And these inmates are not getting the treatment they need while incarcerated. Instead of enrolling drug addicts in treatment programs while they are in jail, many inmates are left to wait out their sentences without any help for their problems. The study noted that only 28% of state inmates and 22% of jail inmates received treatment while incarcerated. These numbers are extremely low when one looks at the volume of addicts housed within the prison walls. But, this statistic also seems to be the most manageable to change at this point. Offering more treatment options, perhaps making treatment mandatory for those that have committed drug-related crimes could help many inmates from reoffending after their sentences have been served.
“In order to reduce crime and save taxpayer dollars, the U.S. Justice system must address addiction and substance abuse as health problems and provide effective intervention and treatment. Incarceration alone cannot prevent or treat a disease,” cautions the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
Marijuana was the most common drug the inmates were addicted to, followed by cocaine and then heroin and other opioids. Additionally, it appears that white inmates are struggling with addiction more than black and Hispanic inmates.
But, some states are working hard to improve the lives of inmates with addiction problems. Texas has recently added treatment facilities, specifically for drug addicted inmates and have also implemented treatment programs that are required before the inmate can be released back into society.