The White House is backing methadone treatments for prisoners who are addicted to opioids as a way to prevent withdrawal symptoms and costly rehabilitation treatments. The use of methadone in prisons shows positive results for many drug addicts after release.
Prison Methadone Treatments
In July 2017, a White House commission announced support for an increase in access to the addiction medication, methadone, for prisoners addicted to opioid drugs. The commission advocates treating opioid addiction like chronic diseases such as asthma, where inmates are allowed to have inhalers. Prison methadone maintenance treatments are given to inmates with addictions to opioids, including heroin and morphine.
Methadone is not meant to cure a drug addiction, it simply alleviates drug cravings. With daily doses of individually calibrated methadone, inmates are spared the torment of withdrawal symptoms that include severe stomach cramping, diarrhea and vomiting, shaking and muscle tremors, insomnia, and hallucinations. Both methadone and suboxone, common withdrawal drugs, work by reducing cravings. In large doses, methadone can cause a high, because it activates opioid receptors in the brain, so dosages are carefully monitored for prison inmates. According to the Federal Bureau of Justice, three out of four prison inmates are drug addicts, yet less than 30 out of 5,100 prisons allow methadone treatments. A drug attorney commonly sees a connection between criminal offenses, drug addiction, and high recidivism rates.
According to a study by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, addicted inmates who are incarcerated for six months or less and receive methadone treatments are more likely to obtain follow up drug treatment upon release and less likely to return to a drug addicted lifestyle. Studies show that methadone treatments for prisoners help to reduce overdose deaths after release. For addicted prisoners who receive no treatment, the risk of continued drug use, repeated drug arrests, and fatal overdose is about 60 percent higher after release.
A growing number of jails and prisons, especially in rural areas, have opted to treat inmates who are addicted to opioids with Vivitrol, rather than methadone or suboxone. Vivitrol is given as a one-time injection as inmates are released from prison. Unlike methadone, it does block opioid receptors in the brain, making getting high almost impossible for a 30-day period of time. Vivitrol is much more expensive than methadone with fewer proven results for addiction success after release, but it’s often given to prisons for free by drug manufacturers.