For many people with an opioid use disorder, access to treatment is literally a life-or-death matter. Unfortunately, too many non-violent drug offenders end up incarcerated and without treatment. The Obama Administration has been working for years to change this.
On June 17, the White House hosted a discussion with key representatives from correctional facilities, professional associations, and state and local governments about expanding access to treatment to more justice-involved individuals so they can successfully reenter society and live healthier, more productive lives.
“Everybody has a role to play in ending the opioid epidemic – including our justice system,” said Michael Botticelli, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “We need to make sure that individuals with opioid use disorders who are incarcerated have access to evidence-based treatment so they can achieve and sustain recovery.”
Sergeant Brad Rose of Sacramento County, California, found that his pilot program using medication-assisted treatment for justice-involved individuals with substance use disorders not only saved lives but also “lowered Sacramento’s recidivism rates from above 70% to below 30%.” Providing this proven treatment to individuals involved in the justice system can help them successfully reenter society.
“The endless cycle of release, relapse, and recidivism is as harmful to our country as it is prevalent,” said Jim Cosby, Director of the National Institute of Corrections. Director Cosby is working to expand programs that ensure individuals in the justice system with opioid use disorders receive evidence-based treatment, including medication-assisted treatment – the standard of care for opioid use disorder.
Melinda Campopiano, Chief of Regulatory Programs for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reminded the room that “medically-assisted treatment has been shown to reduce overdose fatalities by half.” When used as part of a comprehensive approach that includes other counseling and support services, medication is a proven method to help people with opioid use disorders achieve and sustain recovery.
In Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Sheriff Peter Koutoujian started a case management program for the county jail’s medication-assisted treatment program, so officials could follow up with program participants after release. 65% of participants have either continued or completed treatment. To support participants’ long-term recovery, the program enrolls most people in Medicaid after reentry.
“We call them inmates, but really they are patients,” said Kathleen Maurer, Medical Director and Director of Health and Addiction Services for the Connecticut Department of Corrections.
As with any other disease, people with substance use disorders should have access to the full spectrum of services – including medication-assisted treatment – because everyone is different. What works for one person may not work for the next.
The Obama Administration has been working to make treatment more widely available so that everyone who seeks treatment can get it. The FY 2016 bipartisan budget law increased funding to address the opioid epidemic to $400 million. This past February, the President called for $1.1 billion in new funding to address the opioid epidemic, which would support critical prevention, treatment, and recovery services.
Correctional institutions and professional associations have an important role to play in ending this crisis. The conference compared best practices and highlighted models that can be implemented around the country to save both lives and tax dollars. Those affiliated with correctional facilities can help people in facilities achieve recovery and successfully reenter society.
Medication-assisted treatment in correctional facilities is a key part of the effort to help move our country from crisis to recovery. This conversation was an important step towards reaching the goal of making sure everyone – including justice-involved individuals – can access the treatment and recovery services they need.