Treatment, not incarceration, can help rein in fatal opioid overdoses

Treatment, not incarceration, can help rein in fatal opioid overdoses

Providing treatment to individuals incarcerated for substance addiction might help in preventing opioid overdose deaths (OD) after they are released. This has been suggested by a recent study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. As part of the study, a treatment program was launched by the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) in 2016 and it contributed to a drop in ODs not just in the criminal justice system, but also among the state’s general population.

The one of its kind program screens all the inmates for opioid misuse and offers medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction to those in need. When the study authors compared the six-month period before the commencement of the program to the same period after a year, it was found that there was a 61 percent alleviation in post-incarceration deaths. The program also contributed to a 12 percent decrease in ODs statewide. Though the study was carried out as a preliminary evaluation of the program, the results indicated that MAT treatment within jails and then in the community at large is a promising approach to curb the opioid epidemic.

Dr. Josiah “Jody” Rich, director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at the Miriam Hospital in Providence and professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Brown University, said that the program addressed the problems of one of the vulnerable populations at an “extremely vulnerable time” and the intervention can help reduce the statewide mortality due to opioid overdose. The lead author of the study Dr. Traci Green, a senior researcher at the Rhode Island Hospital and an associate professor of emergency medicine and epidemiology at the Brown University, said that this program could be a hallmark to tackle the epidemic. Green also shared this this is an absolutely replicable program which not only curbs the number of overdoses, but also offers hope to the affected ones.

MAT program targets holistic recovery

People abusing opioids for a prolonged period develop tolerance to them, asking for higher doses for the same effect. But when they are incarcerated, they are forced to stay away from the drug of choice without being given any alternative means to heal. In the absence of an effective treatment to heal their brain, they are highly susceptible to a relapse and an overdose after the release from the correction centers. The MAT program uses three FDA-approved medications to treat substance abuse patients in a holistic manner. Methadone and buprenorphine are used to manage withdrawal symptoms whereas, naltrexone, an antagonist, is used to prevent a person from experiencing a high due to another opioid, pill or an injection. Every patient is provided with a customized treatment.

The uniqueness of the Rhode Island project lies in the fact that it uses full spectrum of the MAT program rather than administering just one drug. The program, brought into inception by the Gov. Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island legislation, is available for people who need to continue with the treatment after being incarcerated, who need to start it on arrival or who need it before leaving.

Recovery road map

The study authors noted a remarkable dip in the number of ODs between 2016 and 2017 when fentanyl and its analogues flooded the market and led to an increase in the overdose risk. Even then, the numbers are big enough to call for more concrete actions through different platforms, as drug addiction destroys not just an individual but also families and communities.

Sovereign Health’s Court Services function as a legal support for its patients. Our experts provide legal counsel and representation to those in need. Additionally, our representatives accompany patients to the court and serve as a moderator between the judge and the district attorney to safeguard the interests of their clients by ensuring they get the right treatment instead of being incarcerated for misconduct. If you or a loved one has been charged or convicted of a nonviolent and nonserious drug-related offense in California, Sovereign Court Services can help. Call our 24/7 helpline 866-439-7698 or chat online with one of our experts to know more.

February 27, 2018

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