May 19, 2024

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The Unexpected Answer to America’s Opioid Crisis – Prisons?

The Unexpected Answer to America’s Opioid Crisis – Prisons?



The Unexpected Answer to America’s Opioid Crisis – Prisons?

A study conducted by Rutgers University underscores the importance of strengthening prison reentry programs in addressing the opioid crisis in the United States.

The research reveals that newly incarcerated individuals are at a higher risk of opioid overdose, and prisoners with a history of using psychiatric medications or injecting drugs are more inclined to seek treatment after release.

 

Rutgers University’s study suggests that bolstering prison reentry programs can significantly reduce the death rate from opioid overdoses in the United States.

With a soaring number of opioid overdose deaths in the country, many communities are urgently seeking effective solutions.

A recent study led by Rutgers University suggests that enhancing reentry programs for high-risk drug users in prison is one of the most promising intervention measures.

 

The Unexpected Answer to America's Opioid Crisis - Prisons?

 

 

Grant Victor, the primary author of the research report published in the “Criminal Justice Review” and an assistant professor at the Rutgers University School of Social Work, states, “For individuals who have spent several years incarcerated for drug-related offenses, the period of reentry into society can be chaotic and disorienting.”

Victor goes on to say, “Reducing the gap in healthcare services after release, especially for those with mental and behavioral health issues, may increase their willingness to receive treatment for opioid use.”

Imprisonment is a significant risk factor for opioid-related deaths. A study in 2013 found that individuals newly released from prison were approximately 129 times more likely to experience fatal drug overdoses compared to the general population. Another study led by Victor discovered that 20% of opioid overdose deaths in a particular community involved individuals released from prison within three years.

To investigate risk factors and potential solutions, Victor and his colleagues from Northern Arizona University and Wayne State University applied machine learning to data from a reentry program in the Midwest focused on incarcerated individuals with both opioid drug use and mental illness.

“We wanted to understand two things,” Victor explains. “First, what factors increase the likelihood of someone seeking treatment for opioid use disorder and mental health issues within the first month after release? Second, among this already vulnerable group, is there a subpopulation with the highest risk of opioid overdose after release?”

Researchers found that individuals prescribed psychiatric medications in the months leading up to their release were the most likely to initiate treatment for opioid use disorder. Another motivating factor was a history of injecting drugs; those who reported prior injection drug use were more likely to seek treatment after their release.

The study results suggest the need to expand safe injection services within prisons. These services not only increase participation in opioid use disorder treatment but also effectively reduce the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

Victor concludes, “Getting the most vulnerable individuals into the healthcare ecosystem after their release appears to be beneficial for those at risk of opioid overdose. We found that those receiving mental health treatment were more likely to engage in opioid use disorder treatment programs.”

Few studies have explored the positive relationship between psychiatric pharmacotherapy and opioid use disorder treatment in the reentry population, partly because such reentry programs for opioid use are rare in the United States.

He states, “Most prison systems lack these reentry programs. But our research supports previous studies that suggest that improving outcomes after release can be achieved by engaging with these populations during incarceration.”

Given these research findings, state and federal prison systems should consider enhancing their “stepped care” for opioid use, including implementing standardized screening tools to identify high-risk individuals within prisons and providing robust and accessible services upon their release.

 

The Unexpected Answer to America’s Opioid Crisis – Prisons?

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