In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, which, among other things, required the Bureau of Prisons to expand the availability of medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD). Medications like Suboxone, which provide the two-fold benefit of preventing opioid cravings and blocking opioid receptors, have been strongly shown to reduce the risk of relapse and overdose.
Still, according to The Marshall Project, less than 10% of the roughly 15,000 federal prisoners in need of MOUD are receiving it. With drug and alcohol intoxication deaths having risen dramatically in the last decade, the lack of access to this life-saving medication is having devastating consequences.
The Cost of Failing to Provide Substance Use Treatment
Drug use is widespread within the prison system, and the substances that are smuggled into correctional facilities often come from questionable sources. Just as is happening outside prison walls, fentanyl and other dangerous additives are making illicit substances more hazardous for this population with diminished access to appropriate, and, often emergency, treatment care.
Overdoses in state prisons have increased by over 400% since 2018. County jails have seen overdose deaths increase by over 200%. Adding to the risk, many incarcerated individuals use drugs alone, or may simply be hesitant to seek help if something goes wrong for fear of additional penal repercussions.
The Slow Adoption of MOUD in Correctional Facilities
Historically, there’s been a widespread misconception in the corrections field that MOUD only substitutes one addiction for another. For years, the Bureau of Prisons fought against the provision of MOUD for incarcerated individuals. But when the First Step Act was passed, it required facilities to provide “all eligible inmates” with access to the medication.
While there has clearly been progress since then, the ongoing issue is the discretion prison officials have over what makes an incarcerated individual “eligible” for MOUD. Some correctional facilities have implemented robust and comprehensive treatment plans, finding that the medication, along with other treatment resources, helped reduce violence and prevent the exchange of contraband. Still, many facilities have dragged their feet, only providing medication to individuals nearing their release date, or stating that they don’t have the resources to provide it at all.
When incarcerated individuals are not given access to the proven medical treatment they’re entitled to, they are much more likely to fall victim to the rising overdose rate. Some individuals who are unable to access MOUD through official means decide instead to acquire it covertly. In cases where someone is found with buprenorphine or another medication for opioid use disorder without a proper prescription, they are often disciplined by losing phone or visitation privileges or being sent to restrictive housing.
Meeting Necessary Treatment Needs in Prisons with MOUD
The simple fact is that MOUD saves lives. And with the growing risk of drugs like fentanyl, there has never been a more crucial time for correctional facilities to make use of this treatment. By pairing the dispensing of medication with other treatment services like cognitive behavioral therapy and group or individual counseling sessions, prisons can not only save lives but also improve quality of life and reduce illicit activity.
At Spectrum Health Systems, we have a deep understanding of the treatment needs among justice-involved individuals. For nearly 30 years, we have worked with a number of correctional institutions to provide addiction treatment services behind-the-walls. In addition to MOUD, Spectrum developed a specialized residential treatment program for incarcerated individuals, known as the Correctional Recovery AcademyTM(CRA), which is designed to reduce relapse and recidivism using proven treatment methods. By providing these services, our hope is to give incarcerated individuals the chance to find lasting recovery and establish a stable future, benefiting not only individuals but the communities around them as well.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction or a substance use disorder, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab.