Does Federal Prisons’ Drug Treatment Policy Harm Heroin Addicts?


As a matter of policy, the federal Bureau of Prisons does not provide buprenorphine, methadone or other medication-assisted therapies (MAT) for opioid addiction. Megan McLemore of Human Rights Watch, writing in Politico, contends that the policy “has had disastrous consequences for … the roughly 15 percent of all U.S. inmates that have a history of heroin addiction.” It's a policy that even the Bureau of Prisons admits doesn't work.

Federal prisons spend $110 million annually on drug treatment programs for 80,000 inmates identified as dependent on narcotics. For the 10,000 or so federal inmates dependent on heroin or other opioids, millions of those dollars are spent on outdated, ineffective approaches that wrongly prohibit medication-assisted therapies. A recent study of opioid-dependent inmates leaving Rikers Island jail in New York City showed that nearly nine out of ten inmates who were not medicated relapsed within a month, as opposed to just 2 out of 5 inmates who were on medication-assisted treatment. The difference to society between those two numbers—in terms of health outcomes, reduced crime, and improved employment stability—is huge.

Comments are closed.