NIDA Spotlights Successful Methadone Maintenance in Prison Study

By John Lavitt 06/12/15

Prisoners who received continued methadone maintenance while incarcerated were more likely to obtain follow-up drug treatment upon release.

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse has spotlighted a successful NIDA-funded prison study on methadone maintenance for incarcerated opioid addicts.

In the study, Brown University researchers clearly demonstrate that methadone maintenance in prison results in treatment retention while incarcerated as well as lower drug usage following release. The study was conducted by The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at The Miriam Hospital, in Providence, R.I.

The new NIDA-funded study focused on people incarcerated for six months or less. In the study, prisoners who received continued methadone maintenance while incarcerated were more likely to obtain follow-up drug treatment upon release. Such follow-up treatment resulted in much lower drug usage by the prisoners upon their return to freedom. In addition, the findings show that one month after release, participants who continued to receive doses of methadone while incarcerated were more than twice as likely to obtain treatment at a community methadone clinic after their release.

In contrast, prisoners that underwent detoxification from methadone while in jail were far less likely to pursue such treatment opportunities once released. Even with a tapered methadone withdrawal, the likelihood of seeking treatment post-release dropped. In the month following their release, opioid use was lower among the methadone maintenance patients (8%) when compared to the tapered withdrawal group (18%).

“We hope that those who are incarcerated while on medication-assisted therapy (MAT) are allowed to continue their current treatment or reevaluate and revise their treatment plan to optimize their outcomes based upon evidence-based treatment," said Dr. Josiah Rich, the study’s chief researcher.

"We also hope that all prisoners are screened for addiction," Dr. Rich continued. "Finally, in light of the improved outcomes associated with treatment on the inside, we hope that those who are incarcerated with addiction, but not already on MAT, are evaluated, connected to care, involved in the development of a treatment plan, and linked to continued care in the community upon release.”

In light of the high risk of relapse and fatal overdose that often occurs among inmates following release from prison, the study results emphasize the importance of connecting this population to follow-up treatment and retention.

In the interpretation of the results, the researchers described how, “[c]ontinuation of methadone maintenance during incarceration could contribute to greater treatment engagement after release, which could in turn reduce the risk of death from overdose and risk behaviors.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.