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Maine Prisons Expand Medication Assisted Treatment

Going cold turkey has been the favored course of treatment for addicts in most jails and prisons. PLN has published numerous reports that detail physical harms and deaths that have resulted from drug withdrawal by addicts who were placed in solitary con-finement after arrest.

MDOC Commissioner Randy Liberty believes they need to receive proper drug treatment. “We have seen significant damage that’s done, people being released and overdosing,” he said. “And incarceration and substance abuse disorder is a family affair, so not only are we helping the individuals who we are addicted but we’re helping their parents and their children also.”

The MAT program was launched at three prisons. It offers medication in combination with counseling and therapy, which has been determined to be the best way to avoid relapse and overdose deaths. MDOC is expanding the program to all its prisons.

MAT will be initially offered to 150 prisoners. The first phase will include prisoners with 12 or less months to serve. After that, it will be expanded to prisoners with less than 18 months and by November 2021 it will be offered to all prisoners who are medically qualified to receive it.

“We know anywhere between 60% and 75% of our incarcerated individuals men and women coming into our system have some level of substance use treatment need and, you know, more than half of the women coming into our system are coming in specifically for drug crimes,” said Dr. Ryan Thornhill, deputy commissioner of MDOC. “And so we know this is probably most significant area of impact we can make while they’re with us.”

Thornhill said over 500 prisoners participated in the pilot program. Along with Groups Recover Together and Day One, those prisoners were tracked upon release. “We track overdose deaths and we also track retention in community programming, time at first appointment, compliance at first appointment; our probation officers check in with treatment providers in the community and all those markers show that this is effective,” Thornhill said.

The MAT is a cultural shift for prison officials. “The key to implementing any of this change and trying to shift the culture in any organization is education and. including staff in the key decision making,” said Liberty. At the practical level it just seems to be shifting drug addicts as a profit center for drug cartels, aka the illegal drug purveyors, to becoming profit centers for the pharmaceutical in-dustry, aka the legal drug purveyors. Some of the same companies that have helped drive the opioid epidemic are the same compa-nies making and selling the MAT drugs as well.


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