Last week, more than a third of state prison doctors signed a petition opposing a correctional service policy on Suboxone, a drug commonly used to treat opioid use disorders.
The 138 doctors said that while they support the authorization of drugs for opioid use disorders in incarcerated people, they are concerned about the lack of oversight by correctional authorities on the treatment program. drug addiction.
For example, doctors want discretionary power to expel people with an opioid use disorder from their life-saving addiction drugs if they have improperly sold what they were prescribed. to another incarcerated person.
But the solution to this problem is not to deprive people of the basic drugs they need. Rather, it is about taking extra steps to ensure that drugs are administered appropriately and safely.
The stakes could not be higher. People on drug treatment for drug addiction are 94% less likely to die from an unnatural cause, such as an overdose or suicide, within the first four weeks of incarceration.
The treatment also saves the lives of detainees upon their release. Like drugs for other chronic conditions, such as insulin for diabetes, drugs for drug treatment can be medically necessary for many years, or even a lifetime.
Formerly incarcerated people are 129 times more likely to die from a fatal overdose in the first two weeks after release than the general population. And they are 85% less likely to die from a fatal overdose within the first month of being released from prison.
The war on drugs has been a bitter failure. As hundreds of thousands of people are trapped behind bars instead of receiving treatment for their addiction, they are forcibly separated from their support systems, families, jobs and the things they need to be successful. . The criminalization of drug addiction has not reduced substance use disorders or made anyone safer – instead, it has perpetuated a cycle of harm and societal isolation.
But if the government insists on continuing to incarcerate people, it has a constitutional responsibility to provide basic drugs for drug treatment. Prisons and prisons have already figured out how to administer other necessary medications, such as pain relievers and antipsychotics, which are “of great value” in a correctional setting and which are at risk of abuse.
Drugs for the treatment of drug addiction should not be different. Many other jurisdictions have figured out how to administer it safely. Some jurisdictions require incarcerated people to take their medications in small groups under the supervision of correctional officers and eat a cracker and drink water after administration to avoid misuse or diversion.
Common sense measures like these can prevent much of the potential for drug abuse. The risk of abuse does not relieve prisons and prisons of their obligation to provide this basic, life-saving medical care.
Corrections officials in jurisdictions with strong drug treatment programs have reported that drug smuggling and abuse has declined thanks to their programs. When drug treatment for drug addiction is available, discipline has been shown to decrease as well. It makes sense: When people’s health care needs are met, they are better able to manage their opioid use disorder.
The courts agree that access to drugs for drug treatment is a constitutional right. Federal courts in Maine and Massachusetts have ruled that prisons must provide it. The US Department of Justice also recently discovered that a New Jersey County jail violated the Constitution by failing to do so.
Anyone who needs addiction treatment medications from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation should get them, for the length of time and in the dose needed for their medical needs. Failures of the prison administration to prevent abuse should not and cannot hamper basic health care. Too many lives depend on it.
Joseph Longley is a member of the ACLU National Prison Project.