Prisoners on Methadone Program More Likely to Seek Treatment Upon Release

By McCarton Ackerman 06/01/15

Research indicates that inmate addicts are better served continuing their program behind bars.

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A huge percentage of currently incarcerated prisoners suffered from drug addiction at the time of their crimes, but most aren’t receiving any treatment while behind bars.

A new study has confirmed the ramifications of this after finding that prisoners who continued a pre-existing methadone treatment program in jail were more likely to continue their treatment after release than those who were simply weaned off methadone.

The research project, published in The Lancet, collected data from 223 volunteers in the Rhode Island Department of Correction. All of them were enrolled in methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) prior to being sentenced and were scheduled to stay locked up for no more than six months. Half the prisoners continued their current MMT program, while the other half followed the state’s current protocol of giving prisoners decreased doses of methadone until they were off it entirely.

One month after being released, 96% of those in the continuous MMT group resumed their treatment, compared to 78% in the phased group. The continuous group was also seven times more likely than the phased group to seek methadone treatment after being released. Similarly positive benefits were also found when calculating the medical costs between the two groups.

Although the state recently agreed to extend the amount of MMT time from one to six weeks after incarceration before phasing it out, medical experts largely believe this still isn’t enough. However, Rhode Island is still one of the more progressive states when it comes to MMT in the prison system because most states simply deny methadone to those who are incarcerated. Some addicts are reluctant to enter methadone programs out of fear that it will be taken from them if they’re arrested.

Issues like this have led many legal experts to claim that putting non-violent drug offenders in mandatory treatment instead of prison would be the best approach. A study released last January by the Vera Institute of Justice backed up this hypothesis, reporting that those who were sent to treatment had a 36% chance of being arrested again within two years, compared to 54% for those who were incarcerated.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.