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New Report: Prisoners Forced Off Methadone Relapse More
Some changes in drug treatment in this country could improve the lives of countless people every year. All it needs is a close look at the real situation with most detox and rehab facilities, and the determination to fix it, using effective healthcare protocols.
When people on methadone maintenance therapy are incarcerated, most American prisons force them to withdraw from the methadone, says a new study of prisoners who were sent to prison while on methadone.
While you might think that’s a good thing, there’s more to this study.
Prisoners forced to discontinue methadone while in jail are more likely to relapse back onto heroin and other opioids when they’re paroled or released, rather than return to methadone therapy.
Worse, they’re at much greater risk of drug overdose or death if they start using again after release, said Dr. Josiah D. Rich of Brown University, lead researcher of the study. The study was published in the British medical journal The Lancet.
Here at Novus, we’re in favor of getting people off methadone. In fact we’re methadone-detox specialists and encourage everyone on methadone to get off now before it gets worse.
But this prison scenario illustrates a real problem in American drug treatment. And we think there’s a sensible solution – one that not only applies to prisoners but to everyone with a drug problem.
Risk of fatal overdose after withdrawal is well known
The increased risk of overdose for people who have withdrawn from opioid dependence and who then start using again is well-known. Withdrawal reduces tolerance – that is, the amount of opioids someone can tolerate is less after withdrawal than when they were first using.
Every year, thousands of former users relapse, and unexpectedly overdose on much smaller amounts than they were using before withdrawing.
“That is the perfect storm, to take someone off medicines and put them through reentry to society,” Dr. Rich told Reuters Health. “For many people with opioid dependence, going out [of prison] is worse than going in.”
The study involved about 200 inmates on methadone programs – about 44 of them female. All were set to be incarcerated for six months or less under the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. And almost all said they would prefer to continue on methadone.
However, for the study, half of them were randomly assigned to continue with the methadone while in jail and the other half to a “forced tapered withdrawal” – the standard in most U.S. prisons.
Ninety-six percent of the inmates who continued on methadone in prison enrolled in community methadone clinics within a month of release. Only 78 percent of those in the forced-withdrawal group did so.
In the prison-continued-methadone group, there was one non-fatal overdose in the month after release, compared to two in the forced-withdrawal group. The continued methadone group had one hospital admission and 11 ER visits, compared to four admissions and 16 ER visits in the forced-withdrawal group.
Dr. Rich said that most prisons force prisoners to get off methadone “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” In other words, it’s just some kind of tradition, not something done because it’s scientifically or medically the right or most effective thing to do. Continuing methadone programs in prisons would cost money that most prisons don’t have the budgets for, he said. And administering a methadone program inside a prison, where drug- trafficking is rampant, could be “difficult.”
“The most critical time is the transition back into the community, what kind of support can we give so they can make it without relapsing?” Rich said.
What if no one had been on methadone in the first place?
What if all those prisoners on methadone has been medically detoxed off methadone and rehabilitated in the first place? What if they’d been treated with effective drug treatment that made them healthier and drug free? What if they’d never been talked into a methadone program that kept them unhealthy and kept them drug dependent?
So here’s the bottom line:
Instead of putting people on methadone or other drugs – these are people who wanted to get off opioids in the first place – let’s help them get off drugs right now using new cutting-edge drug detox technology that really works, and that sets them up to win in rehab!
The real reason that long-term, often addictive drugs are being used to treat drug problems is because of inadequate, old-fashioned treatment protocols – both detox and rehab – that ignore new medically-managed drug-free holistic drug treatment technology like that here at Novus.
Why most drug treatment programs fail
People needing to get off drugs are being kept on drugs. That’s because of the tragically inadequate detoxification and rehabilitation programs that currently dominate the drug treatment scene.
Inadequate treatment programs:
- Fail to provide experienced medical supervision 24 hours a day throughout the detox
- Fail to provide proper, non-harmful medicine and other assistance to minimize emotional and physical stress and discomfort throughout the detox
- Fail to perform a full, searching medical history and examination of each patient, and
- Fail to identify each patient’s unique health problems in addition to drug dependence, and
- Fail to address those health issues and restore the health of the patient, which is crucial to recovery.
There are numerous possible failings with most rehabilitation programs, too. But far and away, the worst mistakes are:
- Spending too little time in rehab – 30 days is woefully inadequate for almost everyone
- Enrolling in rehab programs that are ill-suited to the personal needs of the patient.
Of course, adequate drug detox and drug rehab programs are simply the opposite of all those points listed above.
Saving countless thousands of lives is within our grasp
It’s estimated that about 10 percent of the 300,000 people on methadone in the U.S. are sent to jails and prisons every year – roughly 30,000 people. Then, roughly 90 percent of them are forced by the prison systems to withdraw from methadone.
That’s 27,000 people back on the streets, re-exposed to the heroin, morphine, painkillers and all the other drugs that go along with that life. They’re back to crime, back to the hopelessness of addiction, and worst of all, exposed to a dangerously increased chance of a fatal overdose.
Here at Novus, we have proven that thorough, health-restoring detox programs set patients up to win in rehab. Most failures in rehab can be traced back to a lack of physical health and stamina caused mostly by substance abuse and the bad habits that accompany it.
Making a recovering addict physically healthier, even healthier than before the dependence, is often all it takes to overcome the rigors of detox, rehab and the recovery of one’s life.
There is hope for getting one’s life back from months or years of substance dependence. We see it happening every day. Don’t listen to the doomsayers who tell you that addiction is a life-long disease that only more drugs can help.
If someone you care for has a drug problem and is at any risk of jail or prison, give Novus a call. We’re not legal advisors, but we may be able to help. We know all about getting off drugs and alcohol, and we help people recover their health and begin a new life free from drugs.
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