More Women Going To Jail Because Of Opioids

By Beth Leipholtz 05/25/18

The drug-related arrest rate for women has tripled since 1980.

Woman in handcuffs

Krystle Sweat, an inmate at the Campbell County Jail in Jacksboro, Tennessee, is one of a growing number of women in custody because of opioids. 

"I'm almost 33," she told ABC News. "I don't want to continue living like this. I want to be someone my family can count on."

More than 10 years ago, the jail typically had about 10 women there. Now, due in part to the opioid crisis as well as methamphetamine, the average population of women in the jail is 60. 

Campbell County is not new to this issue. In 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the county had the third-highest opioid prescription rate per person of all U.S. counties. This was more than five times the average in the country, and, ABC states, “enough opioids to medicate every single resident here around-the-clock for 15 weeks.”

In addition to opioids, the county is no stranger to methamphetamine. Although labs in homes have decreased, there is a Mexican strain of meth that has been prevalent, authorities report.  

According to a local prosecutor, about 90% of crimes in a five-county area, including Campbell County, are related to drugs, with women "often" committing the crimes.

It isn’t just the Tennessee county facing this issue. According to ABC News, women in jail are “the fastest growing correctional population in America.”

In 1980, there were 13,258 women in jail. In 2016, that number rose to 102,300, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports. The largest jumps were in small counties.

Additionally, the female population in prisons increased and, between 1980 and 2009, the arrest rate for women tripled. 

Another county facing circumstances similar to Campbell County is Montgomery County in Ohio. There, the number of women taken into custody for drug-related crimes has doubled since 2014. In Henrico County, located in Virginia, females in jail have increased from 60 in the year 2000 to about 300. 

Jessica Hulsey Nickel, president of the Addiction Policy Forum, tells ABC News that in rural America especially, accessible treatment and resources are hard to come by.

She says that if someone struggling with meth use has to drive a few hours for methadone or to see a specialist, staying on a good path will be difficult. 

In Tennessee, one issue is a shortage of psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and nurses, according to Mary-Linden Salter, director of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addiction Services.

Salter tells ABC News that residential treatment is also scarce, with no options in Campbell County.

Salter also said that there are differences when it comes to treatment options for men and women. She says there are twice as many residential programs in the state for men as there are for women. This is due to a number of reasons, including that treatment for women can be more complicated due to trauma or abuse, and that women can take longer to reach out for help.

"Women are the caregivers of their families," Salter told ABC. "They get blamed and shamed for not taking care of their children. But they get blamed and shamed for not being in recovery. It's a horrible choice."

Campbell County is working to address the issue in numerous ways, including allocating funding and implementing a recovery house. Additionally, a Women in Need diversion program has been implemented, which helps move women facing misdemeanor drug charges get into treatment. 

"We try to build resilience," Phyllis Clingner, who helped create the program, told ABC News. "Most of these women feel they're... not worthy of a healthy lifestyle. We try to prove differently."

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.