By COLTON WOOD
Capital News Service
LANSING — New evidence by Brown University and a recently announced federal investigation may lead to more states allowing the use of addiction treatment medications to prisoners struggling with substance abuse behind bars.
Currently, Rhode Island is the only state that provides its inmates with all three FDA-approved addiction medications — methadone, buprenorphine and a form of naltrexone called Vivitrol.
Brown University researchers concluded that providing inmates with medication to treat addiction not only reduces overdose deaths after they’re released but increases inmates’ chances of avoiding arrest in the future.
In Michigan, the use of such medications by drug-addicted inmates is prohibited.
“When an inmate comes in, we screen them to see if they’re on anything,” Lt. Ebony Simmons-Rasco of the Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department said.
“And if they are on anything, they put them on a withdrawal protocol, which means they go and check their vitals because they’re not going to get anything. A lot of drugs aren’t allowed in the facility,” Simmons-Rasco said.
She said those inmates are put into a withdrawal program and monitored for fluid intake, vital signs and behavioral changes.
However, methadone, which is itself addictive, can be used in Michigan if an inmate is pregnant and needs the medication.
Simmons-Rasco said one reason drugs are restricted is because people lie.
“The problem that we have in prisons is when you administer drugs to some people, people lie,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m on this, and I need to be on the withdrawal protocol.’”
Then when they get such medication as methadone, inmates may keep it in their mouths, she said. “We have a problem with people hoarding meds, so that’s why certain medications aren’t allowed in the facility.”
Muskegon Correctional Facility Sgt. Alexander Thompson agrees with Simmons-Rasco and said he doesn’t see Michigan changing its policies regarding substance withdrawal medication in its prisons.
“My experience with what this particular problem presents is not them gaining the medication and getting out,” Thompson said. “It’s them getting out of prison and affording the medication when they’re out in society.
“It’s the key contributing factor. In our facility, we can monitor medication in a very controlled environment. But when they’re out of here, their willingness or ability is drastically reduced,” he said.
Jenn Thompson is very familiar with substance addiction.
Thompson struggled with hard drugs for five years. She had hit rock bottom after she was arrested for possessing cocaine with the intent to sell it. She was released from jail after serving one weekend and was placed on probation. Then a friend overdosed while the two were snorting cocaine.
She had no rent money, but had plenty of cocaine. She called her dad, confessed and asked for help.
“I had just turned 21,” she said. “I relapsed once and cleaned up. At 22 — pregnant. And never went back.”
Thompson, who is now an advocate against drug use and has been clean since 2003, said she firmly believes medication should be available to any inmate suffering from addiction.
“They should get medicine for safe withdrawal,” she said. “Opiates and alcohol have deadly withdrawals — literally deadly for some. And then skills and strategies to not reuse on release. It is cruel and unusual punishment to not give a person medical treatment for withdrawal.”
By COLTON WOOD