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The Incarcerated Less Likely to be Referred to Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs

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A new study has found that people referred to treatment for opioid addiction are much less likely to get referred to medication assisted programs if they are coming from the criminal justice system.

The study authored by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that fewer than 5 percent of those referred for treatment from the criminal justice system were directed to medication-assisted treatment programs, compared to 40 percent of clients referred for treatment from other sources, such as health-care providers or employers.

Medication-assisted treatment programs use a combination of therapy and opioid medications that reduce withdrawal symptoms without causing users to feel “high”. Studies have shown medication-assisted treatment programs to be more effective at treating addiction than abstinence programs.  

Researchers say these findings demonstrate that people in the criminal justice system may not be receiving optimal care for addiction disorders. There is no current data on opioid addiction among the incarcerated, but an estimated two-thirds of people in U.S. correctional settings have a substance-use disorder, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

The study was published in the December issue of the journal Health Affairs.

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