UMMS partnering with New England states to improve addiction treatment in prisons

UMass Medical School Communications

February 06, 2017
  Warren Ferguson, MD

Warren Ferguson, MD

To improve treatment of substance use disorder in prison and jail populations, UMass Medical School has teamed up with the departments of corrections in Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the sheriffs in Middlesex and Barnstable counties in Massachusetts.

Nationwide, 65 percent of inmates meet the medical criteria for substance use disorder, but just 11 percent receive treatment while incarcerated. The collaborative will address substance use by assessing current screening and treatment practices for opioid addiction, making recommendations for improvements, and implementing proven practices to create a model.

“Correctional health leaders from state and county systems have come together to form this innovative collaborative,” said Warren Ferguson, MD, vice chair and professor family medicine & community health at UMass Medical School, director of academic programs for Commonwealth Medicine's Health and Criminal Justice Program, and founder and co-chair of the Academic and Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health. “We will work side by side to study best practices in treating substance use disorders in prisons and jails.”

In an effort to curb substance use disorder, since 2013 the Connecticut Department of Correction has offered methadone treatment to more than 600 people in two correctional centers, and plans to expand the program. “We are very pleased to be working with UMass Medical School and the Implementation Science Project as we move forward to expand opioid substitution programs in our correctional system,” Connecticut Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple said.

As part of a statewide plan to reduce overdose deaths, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections recently launched a cutting-edge medication-assisted treatment program that offers opioid addicted inmates buprenorphine, methadone and depot naltrexone. After a successful roll-out at their smallest prison in August, the program will be administered to all facilities.

“While we still have a lot of planning to do to make sure that every individual who passes through our system is screened and given the option for treatment, we look forward to sharing our process and lessons learned with other states and jurisdictions,” said Jennifer Clarke, MD, MPH, FACP, medical programs director for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.

Middlesex County Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian offers opioid-addicted inmates returning to the community a medication-assisted program that combines enrollment in Medicaid with an injectable form of Naltrexone (known as Vivitrol) and post-release counseling. “Through this partnership, I believe we will enhance our ability to track crucial data, strengthening the delivery of critical health care services to those battling substance use disorders,” Koutoujian said.

The first adult detention facility in Massachusetts to launch a Vivitrol program was the Barnstable County Correctional Facility. Statistics show it has reduced recidivism. Sheriff Jim Cummings last year revealed that 82 percent of the 178 inmates given an injection of the opioid blocker at release have not been incarcerated again. “We are delighted to have been chosen by the prestigious UMass Medical School in Worcester as a partner,” Cummings said. “We look forward to where this project will take us. We have much to impart and much still to learn.”

The collaborative is supported through two grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.