Substance use disorders in jails are a complex issue that has gained increased attention in recent years. Many governments are recognizing the need to address this problem through a combination of treatment, harm reduction, and support services. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a critical component of these efforts, as it is highly effective in reducing the risk of overdose and promoting long-term sobriety. Several states in the United States have taken significant steps to make MAT available to jailed individuals.
Substance Use Disorder, MAT in Rhode Island Dept of Corrections
One state leading the way in offering MAT to incarcerated individuals is Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Department of Corrections has implemented a comprehensive MAT program that provides medications like methadone and buprenorphine to inmates with opioid use disorder.
Research has shown that individuals who receive MAT while incarcerated are more likely to continue treatment after release, reducing the risk of overdose and relapse. This approach aligns with a harm reduction model, which focuses on minimizing the negative consequences of substance use rather than solely punitive measures.
About 70-90% of the RIDOC population qualify for the diagnosis of substance use disorders. 20% of these people have opioid use disorder, and The Department of Corrections offers treatment to all individuals with substance use disorders while they are incarcerated.
Many people who enter the corrections system are addicted to opioids, and some experience withdrawal as they are in jail. Medication-assisted treatment helps minimize withdrawal and cravings. This allows people to focus on recovery and what comes next post-incarceration. All inmates are also given continuity-of-care options, allowing them to remain on MAT and continue to get help outside of the jail’s walls.
Substance Use Disorder Treatment in California Jails
Another state with progressive policies is California, which has passed legislation (Cal. Pen. Code § 6047.1) giving grants to jails that do not currently offer MAT to help with the hiring of qualified professionals and other needs to run an in-jail treatment program, complete with Medication-Assisted Treatment. This legislation empowers local jurisdictions to develop MAT programs tailored to their communities’ needs, recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach may not be practical.
Prior laws already gave local jurisdictions the authority to establish and operate MAT programs within their county jails. These programs offer medications like methadone and buprenorphine to incarcerated individuals struggling with opioid use disorder.
Jails in California also have ample supplies of Naloxone, the opioid-reversal drug, available. California’s legislation recognizes that the period following release from jail or prison is a critical time for individuals in recovery. The state has implemented reentry services that include access to MAT and other forms of treatment, as well as support for housing, employment, and healthcare. This comprehensive approach aims to reduce recidivism and improve the chances of long-term recovery when a person finishes their time in jail, allowing hope for continued recovery in the future.
California’s approach to MAT and drug treatment in jails and prisons reflects a broader shift in the United States towards evidence-based and harm reduction strategies. By providing treatment options and support services to incarcerated individuals, California aims to reduce the negative consequences of substance use and improve the overall health and well-being of those affected by addiction in the criminal justice system.
Why MAT Availability for In Jails Is Important
Making MAT available in jails contributes to long-term sobriety and overdose prevention in several ways. Firstly, MAT helps to manage withdrawal symptoms, reducing the intense cravings that often lead to relapse. Secondly, it stabilizes individuals and improves their overall health, increasing their chances of successfully reentering society upon release. Finally, MAT significantly reduces the risk of overdose, as it provides a safer and regulated alternative to the use of illicit drugs. People who are exiting jail are most at risk of drug overdose. MAT can help them stay sober and give them a chance to improve their lives after jail.
People who received MAT while incarcerated, in one study, were 61% less likely to experience a fatal overdose in the two weeks following their release. People who continued MAT post-release had a significantly higher chance of staying in treatment and avoiding relapse.
Addressing substance use disorders in jails and providing MAT is crucial for promoting long-term sobriety and preventing overdose in justice-involved populations. States like Rhode Island and California have been at the forefront of implementing such programs. Research supports the effectiveness of MAT and jail-based treatment programs for reducing the negative consequences of substance use and improving the well-being of incarcerated individuals. As more states recognize the value of MAT in jails, hopefully, more people will begin to seek recovery. This is good news for all of us; we will continue to see positive impacts on public health and the lives of those addicted.
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