Inside California’s Program to Better Treat Addiction in Prisons

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The statistics on drug addiction in American prisons are alarming. The majority of incarcerated Americans are estimated to have a substance-use disorder, and deaths from drug or alcohol intoxication in state prisons have increased by over 600 percent from 2001 to 2019.

Despite the heightened risks and the ongoing opioid crisis in the country, there has historically been little addiction treatment available in correctional facilities. However, California is taking steps to change that.

California has become a leader in addressing addiction in prisons and jails. The state now has a comprehensive treatment program across its prison system, which is considered necessary by addiction and public health experts. This effort is part of a broader initiative to provide adequate addiction treatment and care.

One of the main reasons California has taken such action is due to the dire situation in its prisons. In 2019, California recorded the highest overdose mortality rate for a state prison system nationwide. This alarming statistic prompted Governor Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers to approve an extensive plan for opioid addiction treatment in prisons.

The program in California focuses on using medication to treat addiction, which can help reduce cravings and prevent withdrawal. Inmates at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, for example, are screened for substance use upon entry, allowing staff members to prescribe buprenorphine, which treats opioid addictions, early in their sentence. This early intervention aims to stifle cravings and improve outcomes.

The results of California’s program have been encouraging. Since its start in 2020, overdose deaths among prison inmates have dropped by 58 percent, and hospitalizations were significantly lower for inmates receiving anti-craving drugs compared to those waiting for treatment.

The Biden administration is also prioritizing opioid addiction treatment in prisons and jails. They aim to increase the number of facilities offering such treatment and plan to implement treatment programs in all federal prisons by this summer.

While California’s program comes at a significant cost, $283 million for the current fiscal year, the state has secured permission from the federal government to use Medicaid for health care in correctional facilities. This allows officials to use federal funds to cover opioid treatment, making the program more feasible.

In conclusion, California’s efforts to address addiction in prisons and jails are commendable. By implementing a comprehensive addiction treatment program and focusing on medication-based approaches, the state has seen a significant decrease in overdose deaths among inmates. This initiative aligns with the Biden administration’s goals to expand opioid addiction treatment in correctional facilities nationwide.

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