The Alarming Lack of Adequate Treatment in our Jails and Prisons. Medications for opioid addiction work. Most prisons and jails don’t offer them.

Written by Eric Ulchakere

May 20, 2020

This morning I came across an article on Vox, from an author who I have been following closely since I began my journey with Apportis. Each article he writes is as captivating as his others, and focuses on the problems that stemmed from the opioid epidemic that is plaguing our country. This article highlighted the lack of adequate treatment for those who are incarcerated.

Prior to reading this I had never thought about what this population has to go through to get clean, and the struggles they face once they are incarcerated. The statistics are alarming on all accounts.

In the United States, we are known for locking up more people per capita than any other nation. In our Federal Prisons alone, around 45% of inmates are convicted for drug offenses, according to the Bureau of Federal Prisons. With such a huge population of people incarcerated, what harm reduction methods are they using to alleviate their drug dependency?

If you are not “well-versed” in this space like myself, it would help by explaining that Suboxone, also known as Buprenorphine, is considered the “gold-standard” for opioid addiction treatment. It is one of the three federally approved opioid addiction medications used for treatment, along with Methadone and Naltrexone. There our plenty of clinical studies that show they saves lives. So why is it that only 2 of the 50 states offer all 3 of the federally proven M.A.T. certified medications to their prisoners? The other 48 states and the federal government offer them only in limited circumstances or not at all.

“The lack of adequate treatment in jails and prisons puts a vulnerable population of around 2.3 million people at risk. About 58% of people in state prisons and about 63% of those sentences in jails meet the definition for drug dependence or misuse, compared to 5% of the general population.” (2017 Report of Bureau of Justice Statistics)

One study found that ex-inmates risk of fatal overdose is 129 times as high as it is for the general population during the 2 weeks after their release. This is a staggering statistic that baffled me.  In 1 of the 2 states that offer all 3 of the M.A.T. certified drug treatments, Rhode Island, are finding a 60% drop in overdose deaths among recently released inmates.

Many local and state lawmakers,  jail and prison officials remain skeptical on “replacing one drug with another,” even though states like Rhode Island and Vermont are showing these issues can be overcame. With the building momentum of positive statistics, in time I believe it will help break this stigma and give hope for this vulnerable population across our country.

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