Maine to Offer Medication-Assisted Treatment to Inmates Struggling With Opioid Addiction
By Lauren Abbate (BDN Staff), WGME 13
About 60 percent to 85 percent of inmates in Maine prisons struggle with some kind of addiction, whether it be alcohol or opioid.
Despite those statistics, inmates in Maine Department of Corrections custody have not been able to receive medication-assisted treatment, which research shows is a more effective way to treat opioid addiction than counseling alone.
Next month, that will start to change.
Through a partnership with the substance use treatment organization, Groups: Recover Together, about 100 to 150 inmates will have the opportunity to receive medication-assisted treatment, paired with counseling and other services, prior to their release.
State corrections officials and addiction experts hope that this pilot program will not only help individuals overcome their addiction, but also make for a smoother transition into the community upon release.
“The rates of addiction and overdose are so high, and it’s such a significant issue in Maine, that it would really be irresponsible of us not to take advantage of the environment that we have [in correctional facilities] to at least start [inmates] on treatment,” Deputy Maine Corrections Commissioner Ryan Thornell said. “It’s just the responsible thing to do.”
During the past three months, state officials have worked to identify inmates at three correctional facilities who are within six months of release and have faced opioid addiction. This month, Thornell said staff will conduct medical meetings with the inmates they have identified as potential participants in the program to determine if they are willing to take part in the pilot.
On July 1, when the selected participants are about 90 days from release, they will begin to receive the medication-assisted treatment. Thornell said the number of inmates who receive treatment will depend on how many agree to participate, but they hope to include about 100 to 150 inmates in the pilot program.
Upon release, participants will receive treatment referrals from Groups to continue working on their addiction within their own community. This transition of care from inside a state correctional facility to the community is what Groups Executive Director Cooper Zelnick said will set Maine apart from other states working to make medication-assisted treatment available to inmates.
“I think this is an incredible step forward for Maine. It’s much needed and [medication-assisted treatment] is the gold standard,” Zelnick said. “It will set a standard that many other states need to follow.”
Getting into prisons
In Maine, the number of inmates entering correctional facilities due to drug-related offenses has increased nearly every year since 2014, according to DOC data.
Upon entry into a DOC facility, Thornell said, inmates go through an assessment of needs, including substance use treatment. About 60 percent of male inmates in Maine prisons have been identified as needing treatment for substance use. For women, this rate jumps to 85 percent, Thornell said.
Once the need is identified, the inmates are put on waiting lists for either residential or outpatient treatment, typically centered around counseling. At any given time, more than 100 inmates across the DOC system are receiving treatment, Thornell said.