Many people who find themselves in the throes of addiction are also, unfortunately, dealing with other issues like legal trouble and run-ins with law enforcement. It’s believed that almost half of the prison population fits the criteria for substance use disorder, which means many people are suffering in the criminal justice system. More and more, states are approving the use of medication-assisted treatment for inmates who qualify, and are opening up to using all effective MAT drugs including methadone and buprenorphine. The importance of these programs goes beyond the surface, however, and can help solve some outstanding issues that plague the corrections system in America.
Treating the Person
It’s difficult for people who are unaware of what makes addiction a disease to comprehend that inmates in facilities are still humans suffering from an illness. The way opioid use disorder, for example, affects the brain and body can completely reprioritize someone’s needs in life, often leading them down the wrong path. While these prisoners are doing their time, they should not have to do so while suffering from painful withdrawal. MAT humanizes the people behind bars, exposing that many of them have been lead to their incarceration due to drugs and addiction, and can and should be treated for the disease while they have the opportunity to do so in a controlled environment.
Illicit Drug Trade
A major issue that affects nearly every correctional facility in the country is the smuggling, trade and use of illicit drugs. Regardless of how they are obtained or brought into the facility, they pose a major threat to the safety of both correctional staff and prisoners alike. Without MAT programs, some inmates feel they have no choice but to participate in these activities to alleviate the excruciating symptoms of withdrawal. This can lead to overdose, violence, the spread of infection, and further lengthening of sentences for many prisoners.
Rehabilitation Prevents Recidivism
There is a high rate of recidivism in American prisons, meaning that those convicted are likely to re-offend. These rates are much higher in systems where there is no attempt at rehabilitating the prison population, especially those who are most willing. For those whose criminal behaviors have been mainly dictated by their addiction, MAT during incarceration can have a profound effect on their futures. Providing vital treatment medicines like methadone, buprenorphine, and naloxone, along with substance use counseling, can help prevent them from returning to a life of substance use and crime once they finish their sentences.
By humanizing those who are incarcerated and offering recovery services to those who are struggling with substance use disorder, many of the common issues surrounding the criminal justice system can be improved. These changes will not happen overnight, but receiving essential and necessary medical services like MAT is a human right, even to those who are repaying their debts to society behind bars.
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