Prisoners forced off methadone less likely to return to treatment

published on June 4, 2015 by Kathryn Doyle in Reuters

(Reuters Health) – When people on methadone maintenance therapy are incarcerated, many are forced to stop taking it, and are less likely to restart methadone treatment on their release, according to a new study.

A once-daily dose of methadone relieves withdrawal symptoms from heroin and other opiate drugs, blocks the high that an opiate would give and relieves drug cravings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maintenance treatment should continue for at least one year and some people may benefit from taking methadone for a number of years.

Methadone is one of the most tightly regulated medications we have, but is highly effective in treating heroin or opiate addiction, reducing HIV transmission, criminal behavior and overdose deaths, said lead author Dr. Josiah D. Rich of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

“It is estimated that in the United States, about 10 percent of the people receiving methadone treatment are incarcerated every year . . . this works out to 30,000 people per year on methadone who enter prisons or jails,” said M-J Milloy of the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, Canada, who coauthored an editorial accompanying the new results.

More than 90 percent are forced off of methadone on incarceration, Milloy told Reuters Health by email.

People are taken off methadone when they are incarcerated “because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” Rich said. Continuing therapy would cost money and can be very hard to administer in a controlled way, he said.

“But this is right when they really could benefit from methadone,” he said.

Fear of being incarcerated and forced off the drug actually deters opioid users in the community from trying methadone treatment, he said.

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