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Push for Medication Treatment in Jails Grows Stronger

April 14, 2020

Community addiction treatment programs and local jails can build on some existing similarities to form partnerships providing much-needed medication treatment services to more inmates, two correctional health leaders said at the virtual Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit.

Opioid treatment programs and jails both serve marginalized populations, and deliver medication treatments in highly controlled environments, explained Brent Gibson, MD, chief health officer at the Chicago-based National Commission on Correctional Healthcare. Effective partnerships can bring about more medication-assisted treatment (MAT) behind bars and better care coordination pre-release, Gibson said.

The need remains great: As recently as 2017, only a few dozen of the nation's more than 5,000 local jails were making MAT available, he said. The number certainly has grown since then, but a service gap remains, he said.

Joining Gibson in the session presentation was Denise Rahaman, executive director of corrections at CFG Health Systems, which provides correctional health services to numerous jails in New Jersey. Rahaman said that while potential barriers such as higher staffing costs related to medication administration and worries over drug diversion are real for jail systems, there also are numerous benefits in terms of outcome.

She said that when MAT was introduced into some county jails in New Jersey, incidents of inmate self-harm during the first two weeks in custody dropped dramatically.

In communities where linkages to local specialty treatment providers don't exist for jail systems, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) could offer a promising resource, Rahaman said.

Both Rahaman and Gibson reminded the audience that external forces also are pushing local corrections systems to accept MAT. Rahaman cited court rulings that have sided with patient rights advocates on the right to continuation of treatment that had been received in the community. Gibson also quoted an unnamed colleague who said corrections systems that fail to make available all three approved medications for opioid use disorder place themselves at risk of malpractice claims.

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