Only six of New York’s 54 state-run correctional facilities offer medication-assisted treatment to help curb opioid cravings and stabilize brain function. And so, the Albany Times Union reports, a group of state lawmakers is seeking support for a bill that would require all jails and prisons in the state to offer medications proven to reduce death among individuals with opioid use disorder. “This is a recurring problem,” Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said at a legislative hearing on Wednesday. “People come into our facilities with a substance use disorder; others develop it while incarcerated. And when they leave, many go back into the neighborhoods they came from and overdose. So I think it’s incumbent on the state to take a giant leap and go for it in all our facilities.”
Roughly 78 percent of all inmates in New York have a diagnosed substance use disorder, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. MAT has been a proven treatment for opioid use disorder for at least three decades, with studies showing it prevents relapse and significantly lowers overdose rates. But it remains controversial, in part because the medications used to curb cravings are themselves powerful and because abstinence-only proponents view any reliance on drugs as a negative. The high rate of fatal overdoses among former inmates has made the rollout of MAT in jails and prisons a key issue for recovery advocates. A 2007 study, for example, found that former inmates of Washington State prisons were 12.7 times more likely to die in the first two weeks after their release than the average state resident, with drug overdose the leading cause. And that was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before the emergence of highly potent fentanyl in America’s drug supplies.