Prison methadone treatment programs have proven effective

Prison methadone treatment programs have proven effective

A significant number of prisoners are addicted to opiates, such as heroin and OxyContin. Since there is a well-documented link between drug use and criminal charges, many people feel prisoners in short-term jails should be given methadone treatment in order to reduce the likelihood of criminal activity when they are released.

One such program, established in 1987, offers methadone to drug addicts who have been charged with misdemeanor crimes. Upon release, addicts enter a community methadone program to further help them. This program has been highly successful and has led to fewer repeat arrests.

While we have seen that these methadone treatment programs can work, a relatively small number of facilities offer them. There are several reasons for this. First, critics claim that in these programs, one drug is simply substituted for another. However, they fail to consider the different pharmacologic properties of the substances involved. Specifically, when methadone is consumed every day, a user does not experience a high. Further, opiate addiction is a medical condition and not something that can be overcome through sheer will.

Another frequent argument against in-prison treatment programs is that they are cost-prohibitive. In reality, experts say cost is not a major issue. A recent study revealed a cost benefit to taxpayers of $4.00 for every dollar spent on this type of program. The study showed that drug addicts, at high risk for hepatitis C and HIV, which are both expensive to treat, cost the nation significantly more than recovering drug addicts do.

Further, treating inmates who are addicted to opiates is good for prison guards, who are in constant danger of coming into contact with unsafe injection equipment while searching cells or doing pat-downs.

There are more methadone treatment programs than there used to be, but prisons are slow to embrace them. A number of prison officials believe addiction treatment not to be their problem, especially when they are already stretched thin. However, these programs are slowly increasing in popularity. Blog

Source: The Atlantic, “Giving Prisoners Addictive Drugs: Sometimes a Good Idea,” Jessica Wapner, 25 April 2011

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