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Feds Fail To Use Effective Drug Treatment Plans In Prison


January 13, 2008 – Despite 20 years of scientific evidence showing that drug treatment programs work, the feds fail to offer enough of them to prisoners, according to a new study. Currently 7.1 million adults – over 2% of the population – in the U.S. are locked up or on probation. About half of them suffer from some kind of addiction – heroin. alcohol, crack, crystal meth, you name it – but only 20% of those addicts actually get effective treatment, say researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

“For every dollar that you spend on treatment of substance abuse in the criminal justice system, it saves society on average four dollars,” says study co-author NIDA director Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist.

Among the studies Volkow and her colleagues reviewed: one of  heroin addicts treated with methadone in prison, a treatment program that they continued when they were released. That study found that addicts who received no treatment were seven times more likely than their rehabbed compeers to become addicted to heroin again once back on the streets and three times more likely to commit a crime and land back in prison.

The rehab programs save money that otherwise will likely be spent on re-incarceration of drug addicts and treatment of psychiatric disorders and diseases such as HIV or AIDS that they may contract from dirty needles used to satisfy their addictions, Volkow says.

“Many people with addiction also have psychiatric disorders,” she says, noting that recreational drug use often exacerbates the problem. (In fact, more mentally ill people are housed in prisons than psychiatric hospitals in the U.S. “The Los Angeles County Jail, with 3,400 mentally ill prisoners, functions as the largest psychiatric inpatient institution in the United States,” according to a 2003 report by The New York Times.)

Volkow stressed the rehab programs only work if continued after addicts are released from lockup.

“Addiction is a chronic disease… For treatment to be effective, you have to provide continuing care,” she says. “In some instances some patients have to maintain treatment for several years.”

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  1. January 14, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    It’s so unbelievably sad. The War on Drugs isn’t a war on distance drug cartels…it’s a war on our family members, our friend-the people we love who are sick. It only hurts people that are sick and could be dramatically helped by treatment.

    60% of the prison population in the US is comprised of NON-VIOLENT drug offenders. I would be willing to bet that most of those offenders are addicts, not money hungry dealers.

    The cost to house a patient in prison for a year is around 40g. Methadone treatment (with counseling and drug testing) is about 5g a year. Buprenorphine is around 8g a year (with counseling and drug testing). Intensive Outpatient Counseling is about the same….a small price to pay for people to emerge from prison healthy, happy and ready to move on with their lives.

    The saddest thing of all is that the first month an addict gets out of prison they have 8x the risk of overdosing than they did when they were in active addiction BEFORE they went to prison.

    Hows that for effective?

    Even if your of the mind that addiction is a curse that addicts deserve…it is hard to look at those figures and not see how it helps EVERYONE to treat an addict instead of imprison him/her.

  2. Lou
    January 14, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Study afte study, year after year…but nothing changes. The prisons get fuller, inmates are released with NO support what so ever. Unfortunately, I know this from a personal perspective.

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