Opiate-replacement therapy (ORT) such as methadone and buprenorphine are available in only about half of all federal and state prison systems, and just 23 states provide referrals to addiction treatment upon release from prison, according to new research.
Medical News Today reported Sept. 9 that researchers from Miriam Hospital, Brown University and the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights said that both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that prisoners be offered ORT, which the study authors described as a proven and cost-effective intervention.
“Improving correctional policies for addiction treatment could dramatically improve prisoner and community health as well as reduce both taxpayer burden and reincarceration rates,” said lead study author Amy Nunn of Brown University.
Researchers surveyed the medical directors of all 50 state corrections systems as well as the District of Columbia and their counterparts in the federal prison system. They found that 55 percent of systems offer methadone to some degree, although only to certain populations in some cases, and 45 percent offer post-release linkages to community-based methadone programs. Only 14 percent of prison systems provide buprenorphine, while 29 percent link to post-release buprenorphine treatment.
Most health officials at prison systems that didn’t offer ORT said they preferred drug-free detoxification, while others cited security concerns. Significant numbers also admitted ignorance about the efficacy of methadone and buprenorphine. “Our interviews with prison medical directors suggest that changing these policies may require an enormous cultural shift within correctional systems,” said Nunn.
The report was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.