SOURCE: Brown University, news release, May 28, 2015
FRIDAY, May 29, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Drug addicts forced off methadone maintenance treatment while in prison are much less likely to seek such treatment when they're released than inmates who keep receiving the treatment, a new study finds.
Taking inmates off methadone maintenance treatment is widespread policy in U.S. prisons, though the treatment saves lives, reduces drug-seeking behaviors and helps reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis, according to the researchers.
Their study included more than 200 people in Rhode Island undergoing methadone maintenance treatment who were jailed for six months or less. They were randomly selected to continue treatment while in prison or to undergo phased withdrawal, which is standard procedure in Rhode Island. In many other states, treatment is halted as soon as a prisoner begins their sentence, the study authors said.
When they were released, former inmates were offered financial and logistical assistance for getting methadone maintenance treatment.
More than 97 percent of the participants who continued treatment while in prison went to a methadone maintenance clinic within a month after their release. But, just 71 percent of those whose treatment was phased out while in prison went for methadone maintenance treatment soon after their release, the study found.
People allowed to continue treatment in prison are two to six times more likely than others to go to a clinic after their release, according to the study authors.
The study was published May 28 in The Lancet.
"What we are doing with methadone in our correctional system is we are systematically taking people off it," study author Dr. Josiah Rich, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brown University and director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at The Miriam Hospital, said in a university news release.
"It's the only medication that is summarily stopped upon incarceration. This study questioned that policy to find out what happens," he explained.
Denying addicts this treatment while in prison may only increase the risk of them turning to crime again after their release, the researchers said.
"For most of these people, the very reason they are caught up in the criminal justice system is related to their addiction to begin with," Rich said.
Tarah Dorsey was taken off methadone maintenance treatment while in prison and spent a month in withdrawal. She also saw others suffer.
"I know people who came to prison on methadone, got detoxed while they were in prison, went home and overdosed and died," Dorsey, who now works as a recovery coach at Anchor Recovery Community Center in Pawtucket, said in the news release.
She also knows addicts who never started methadone treatment because they were worried about going through withdrawal if they ended up in jail.
"To take somebody's medication from them is wrong. A disease is a disease is a disease, no matter how you look at it," Dorsey said.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about treatments for drug addiction.