Many people who live life in recovery talk about the alternatives to staying sober; jails, institutions, or death. In Cincinnati, a new spark of hope and resources within the prison itself are setting out to change these options. Medication-assisted treatment for addicted inmates creates hope inside of jail and can help inmates when they leave, as well.

Jail as a Beginning, Not an End

For many people who enter into jail or institutions, there are few recovery resources. This lack of help leads to a “revolving door” – drug users that go to jail and return home only to relapse again.

About 75% of drug-addicted inmates will return to their old lifestyles. Many overdose, and some die.

Time outside the jail is spent using drugs and committing petty crimes until the addicted person commits crimes again. In places hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, this can provide a vital lifeline to recovery and a chance to stay clean despite the temptations of both jails and the outside world. These drugs usually eliminate sudden and intense cravings for opioids.

When an inmate stays sober in jail for any length of time, there is an opportunity to help them stay sober outside of jail, as well. Medication-assisted treatment can be a pathway to recovery and prevent recidivism.

Vital Resources to Fight the Addiction Epidemic

Addiction is a cycle that can be broken, even for the incarcerated, yet only one in twenty jails in the United States offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT), according to the Center on Addiction, a nonprofit that advocates for MAT.

In Ohio, Hamilton County jail has decided to join the movement of offering treatment to people with opioid use disorder.

Currently, fifty-two inmates receive buprenorphine, an FDA-approved medication that helps prevent opioid cravings that lead to relapse. NaphCare, the jail’s healthcare provider, decided to offer these treatments to inmates. Combined with talk therapy and 12-step meetings, the drug has proven to be a useful relapse prevention tool.

Fighting Misinformation and Addiction, Too

Many jails and prisons worry that offering MAT is merely trading one addiction for another, although medical experts say that’s not how it works. Buprenorphine is a drug that is prescribed to help stabilize people and help them function normally as their body adjusts to living without opioids.

Buprenorphine does function as an opioid, but it won’t get the inmate high as long as it’s taken as prescribed. In jails, they hold onto the bottles of drugs and dispense the medications, and they are tightly controlled, so this is an easy issue to address.

It’s a common misconception that drugs like buprenorphine are replacing one drug from another. They don’t get people high unless taken improperly, and there are many ways to prevent this type of misuse.