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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Prison System Falls Short In Treating Drug Addiction

US Prison System Treating Drug Addiction
The United States is literally sick with the disease of addiction. Every day countless numbers of people are sentenced to jail when they belong in drug treatment facilities. The U.S. prison system does not appropriately address the needs of people withdrawing from drugs and people are put through what could only be described as a form of torture. It is estimated that a quarter of a million people that are addicted to heroin are imprisoned each year in the United States. That number is only a fraction of all the people incarcerated that are addicted to various narcotics. Sadly, very few state run prisons offer, let alone provide, any form of detoxification or any type of treatment. A recent Science Daily article addressed this problem and had many interesting facts worth noting. Simply, the U.S. prison system falls short in treating drug addiction.

The Miriam Hospital at Brown University and their affiliated Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights did a study and their findings are almost hard to believe. "Just half of all federal and state prison systems offer ORT (opiate replacement therapy) with the medications methadone and buprenorphine, and only in very limited circumstances. Similarly, only twenty-three states provide referrals for some inmates to treatment upon release from prison. These policies are counter to guidelines issued by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which say prisoners should be offered ORT for treatment of opiate dependence". There is no doubt that providing inmates with the option of ORT and referring prisoners to drug treatment centers, upon release, would dramatically decrease recidivism and ultimately would give people a chance at starting a new life. In turn this would make the streets safer for everyone and this would reduce the taxpayers' burden by keeping addicts from returning to jail over and over.

"Opiate addiction, like all forms of addiction, causes long-term changes to the structure and functioning of the brain, which is why it is classified as a disease. Addiction requires treatment just as other chronic diseases, like diabetes and cancer, do. Unfortunately, there is a large gap between the number of prisoners who require addiction treatment and those who actually receive it," added senior author Josiah Rich, MD, MPH, co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at The Miriam Hospital and Alpert Medical School. If an inmate were diagnosed with cancer they would receive proper medical treatment for the disease and the same goes with any illness. Why, then, is the disease of addiction overlooked and thrown under the bus time and time again? The science is clear and the facts have been posted on the wall, but, nobody wants to read them - let alone believe them.

"In spite of overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating that pharmacological treatment for addiction has greater health and social benefits than abstinence-only policies, many prison directors are philosophically opposed to treating substance use. Most prisons also do not provide referrals for substance use treatment for prisoners upon release. These trends contribute to high re-incarceration rates and have detrimental impacts on community health. Our interviews with prison medical directors suggest that changing these policies may require an enormous cultural shift within correctional systems", stated Amy Nunn, ScD, the studies lead author and an assistant professor of medicine (research) at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. It is hard not to see Amy Nunn's point, real change and the destruction of the social stigmas that come along with addiction are ever so important. If prisons continue to view the disease of addiction as a question of willpower of weak moral fiber, then there will always be hundreds of thousands of people returning to prison as repeat offenders. Over 10 million people go to jail in America every year, most of which have or have had a substance abuse problem. The tools are available for curbing those numbers; however, we are failing to utilize them.

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