It is a well known fact that addictions run rampant throughout the nation’s prison system. Many times, drugs and using are what put people behind bars in the first place. Well over in Massachusetts, a radical new plan is coming into play that may allow inmates to receive treatment and recovery help while serving time.
The legislation comes from Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker and has already gotten approval votes from the state House of Representatives. It is also backed by a coalition of 26 health care groups, who continue to publicly show support. Currently, however, it is just a provision. But it could make its way to becoming a law if the Senate agrees. At its essence, this new program will offer anti-addiction medications to qualified prisoners and to people civilly committed for treatment.
As of right now, most jails and prisons deny access to these types of meds (primarily identified as methadone and buprenorphine). Doing that, leaves the addicted inmates at a very high risk of OD’ing when released for their minor crimes.
The “pilot” program that was approved would focus on six Massachusetts prisons (not publicly identified) and be run by the Department of Corrections. If prisoners were in treatment before their arrest and already taking buprenorphine or methadone to wean off of an addiction, they would still get access to those medications.
Inmates who were not in treatment but volunteer on the inside would be evaluated by the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center, then potentially brought into the program. Addictions specialists would also be on hand, to measure progress and monitor the recovery steps.
The move is not without its critics, of course. One of the primary issues that has come up with this legislation has to do with cost. Certain politicians brought up financial figures when debating the measure. According to their estimations, the program could cost as much as $125 per week per participant and as much as $22.5 million annually.
Clearly an initiative like this won’t be a completely easy sell, but many believe (ourselves included) that the pros far outweigh the cons. Local Department of Corrections director Patricia Coyne-Fague has seen overdoses skyrocket in the prisons that she oversees and wrote an impassioned letter urging legislators to take action.
“We are constantly vigilant for any diversion of medications, and yes, we have had to educate staff about the benefits of (medication-assisted treatment) in order to achieve their buy-in,” she wrote. “But we believe the challenges are not insurmountable, and that the benefits to this program far outweigh the difficulties.”