Most Jails, Prisons Deny Methadone to Inmates

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Connecticut offers methadone treatment to help inmates successfully re-enter society, but for most jails and prisons, such programs are out of the question, the New York Times reports, with PBS’ Frontline. Much of the criminal justice system takes a punitive approach to addiction. Many who work in corrections believe, incorrectly, that treatments like methadone, itself an opioid, allow inmates to get high and simply replace one addiction with another. Officials say they have neither the money nor the mandate to provide the medications. “The best way to not get addicted to opioids is to never use them,” said James Cummings, sheriff of Barnstable County in Massachusetts, who opposes methadone in jails despite a sharp rise in addiction and overdoses there.

Maintenance treatments like methadone, if uninterrupted, are proved to reduce arrests and increase employment, and for many with addiction are the only thing that works. In July, a White House commission on opioid addiction called for increasing inmates’ access to addiction medication. Dr. Kathleen Maurer, director of health services for Connecticut’s corrections department, said it was critical for jails and prisons to treat opioid addictions like chronic diseases, including providing medicine. “We don’t take away people’s insulin or their asthma inhalers,” she said. “Why should we take away their methadone?”

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