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Expanding Access to Methadone Treatment in Jails and Prisons

May 19, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck

The ACLU of Illinois held a media availability this week with Christine Finnigan, who continued to receive her ‘medically, necessary physician-prescribed methadone treatment’ in DuPage County Jail following a lawsuit brought against the DuPage Sheriff’s Office by the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations.

The discussion highlighted the issues incarcerated individuals face in accessing methadone treatment in jails and prisons, as most facilities within the U.S. do not let people take prescription medications like methadone to treat their substance abuse disorder while serving time.

According to data from the ACLU, adults between the ages of 25 and 44 are more than twice as likely to die from opioid overdose than from COVID-19.

Currently, 85% of people in prison or jail have some kind of substance abuse disorder, compared to 9% of the general population, and incarcerated people are 129 times more likely to die of a drug overdose in their first two weeks after release, compared to the general population.

Methadone treatment has been shown to reduce deaths from opioid overdose up to 50% by preventing withdrawal symptoms during recovery.

In some states, like Delaware and Rhode Island, which are smaller and don’t have county jails, researchers saw a 60% reduction in overdose deaths, post incarceration, because these states are able to work with one agency to provide medication to everyone in prison or jail.

According to the ACLU, court cases like Pesce v Coppinger and Godsey v Sawyer, provide evidence that the ADA requires correction programs, such as jails and prisons, to administer drugs to inmates that are in medication-assisted treatment. 

Inmates in MAT programs are thus considered to be individuals with disabilities under ADA, and the correctional system must find a way to administer and monitor Suboxone and Methadone treatment in a way that doesn’t cause a security or safety risk.

The Bureau of Prisons established a plan in 2020 to expand its medication-assisted treatment programs nationwide, and ensure all eligible inmates have access to the program. However, the report estimates needing $76.2 million across fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to do so. 

The plan also acknowledged a lack in key planning elements to ensure its significant expansion efforts for treating federal inmates who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder timely and effectively. 

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