We can’t afford to ignore drug addiction in prison


Is locking someone up with an addiction actually going to help them stop being addicted? David Sack’s words about this topic is truly touching and a dead on the nail! No one should ignore drug addiction in prison!

Inmates are likely to find a drug trade as active as the one outside prison walls. Many is the time I’ve listened sadly as family members have consoled themselves about a loved one’s incarceration by saying, “At least he’ll have to quit using now.” If only.

Inmates with addictions are surrounded by similarly troubled souls. Of the more than 2.3 million people in American prisons and jails, more than 65 percent meet medical criteria for substance abuse addiction. When you combine this with those who have histories of substance abuse, were under the influence when they committed a crime, committed it to get drug money, or were incarcerated for a drug or alcohol violation, the percentage rises to 85 percent. In other words, if an inmate is looking for encouragement to “Just say no,” odds are he won’t find it from his bunkmates.

But most disturbing is the fact that inmates who do hope to kick an addiction can’t count on getting the help they need. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that only 11 percent of inmates with substance use disorders received treatment at federal and state prisons or local jails. The best that most can hope for is occasional mutual support or peer counseling meetings. No wonder that more than half of inmates with addiction histories relapse within a month of release.

drug addiction in prison

Investing in recovery

So what is needed?

  • Inmate evaluations to spot addictions and underlying issues that may be fueling them – conditions such as depression, trauma and anxiety.
  • Consistent treatment by a trained staff that includes addiction medicine specialists who understand how to use evidence-based treatments, including medication-assisted therapy.
  • Long-term treatment programs that follow the inmate into his community and continue to support him after his release.

As it stands now, only 1.9 cents of every dollar our federal and state governments spend on substance use and addiction go to pay for prevention and treatment; 95.6 percent pay for the consequences. That means we are shelling out billions of dollars to clean up the mess of addiction rather than doing what we know pays off – helping people overcome it.

A 2010 CASA study, for example, determined that if we gave quality addiction treatment and aftercare to every inmate who needed it, we’d break even on the investment in only a year if just more than 10 percent were successful in staying employed, out of trouble and drug free. In dollar terms, that translates to an economic benefit for the nation of more than $90,000 annually per former inmate.

drug addiction in prison

Healing the addicted mind

So if we know what to do, why aren’t we doing it?

Part of the reason may be a failure to understand how addiction works. Many still expect prison to scare addicts straight. The worse the experience, the less inclined they’ll be to use drugs in the future and risk a return, right? So why invest in treatment?

It’s not that simple when you’re an addict. Addiction is a chronic illness that needs long-term care, much like diabetes or heart disease. It changes the brain, often turning users – including those we love – into people we don’t understand, trust or like. While it’s tempting to think punishment is the answer, prison alone doesn’t teach addicts how to change their thinking and behavior, doesn’t help repair damaged neural pathways and doesn’t take away drug cravings or offer strategies to prevent relapse. In most cases, prison just buys a little time before the addict relapses and re-offends, perpetuating the cycle and hurting himself along with the rest of us.

drug addiction in prison

Read more here.

If you know someone who went prison and really thought they were going to come out free from addiction, please reconsider the idea and help them in seeking help. Prisons should rehabilitate those in prison so that they are less likely to commit crimes in the future. Drug addiction treatments in prison will help rehabilitate those addicted so they will not commit drug related crimes in the future. If you or someone you know needs help in recovery, please contact Bridgeway Behavioral Health at www.bridgewaybh.com or call us at 866-758-1152.

If you enjoyed this post, or found it informative, please consider sharing it!

Comments are closed.