How We Win the Opioid War: Report

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A national advocacy group released a report Wednesday assailing the grievous lack of medical treatment for addiction in prisons and jails, hours before the newly appointed Bureau of Prisons (BOP) director Mark Inch was scheduled to testify before the House of Representatives Government Reform Committee.


Table courtesy of The Sentencing Project


While expanded use of drug courts helps divert people from the criminal justice system, authors of The Sentencing Project report excoriate policies that they say limit treatment within the correctional environment, arguing that lawmakers need to get on board with evidence-based methods in the war on opioids.

The report calls on the BOP, state prisons and local jails to follow recommendations of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis to increase access to medication-assisted treatment, particularly the use of substitutions such as methadone or buprenorphine.

This treatment is also backed by the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the World Health Organization.

A majority of the roughly 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S. report having a drug addiction, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics; from 58 percent of people in state prisons, to 63 percent of those serving time in jail.

Talk therapy, support groups, and “drug education” are not enough to combat an epidemic that kills at least 91 Americans every day, according to researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Decades of empirical research and the “reflections of police chiefs” show that last century’s punitive War on Drugs model was not effective in reducing either drug use or crime, according to the report.

Authors note that the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act gives us legislative tools to help close the treatment gap, but are widely under-enforced. The report also emphasizes that for the population at large, cutbacks to health care coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act are creating the largest barrier to treatment.

Victoria Mckenzie is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. Click here to view the full report, “Opioids: Treating an Illness, Ending a War,” by Nazgol Ghandnoosh and Casey Anderson, Program Associates at The Sentencing Project. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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