Most Incarcerated Individuals with Opioid Addiction Remain Untreated in Jail

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Ashish Thakrar, MD Internal Medicine & Addiction Medicine National Clinician Scholars Program University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Thakrar

Ashish Thakrar, MD
Internal Medicine & Addiction Medicine
National Clinician Scholars Program
University of Pennsylvania

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: About 1.8 million Americans are currently incarcerated, more than any other country in the world per capita. Of those 1.8 million, about 1 in 7 suffers from opioid addiction, putting them at high risk of overdose and death, particularly in the weeks following release.

Opioid use disorder is a treatable condition, particularly with the medications buprenorphine or methadone, but historically, prisons and jails have not offered treatment. Over the past five years, a few states and municipalities have enacted policies to provide access for OUD treatment. We examined whether these policies were actually improving access to treatment. 

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: Buprenorphine use in jails and prisons increased dramatically over the past three years, from less than 100 to about 10,000 treated individuals per day. The bad news is that this is still far behind where we need to be. Only 4% of the incarcerated population were treated for opioid addiction with buprenorphine, the most commonly used treatment. That means, of all prisons with opioid addiction, more than 95% are still untreated. We should both celebrate the states like Rhode Island and Vermont that have made progress while recognizing that we still have a long way to go nation-wide.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Future work should explore the availability of methadone in jails and prisons. We were unable to describe methadone due to limitations in our data and due to the way methadone is procured by jails and prisons.

No disclosures


Thakrar AP, Alexander GC, Saloner B. Trends in Buprenorphine Use in US Jails and Prisons From 2016 to 2021. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(12):e2138807. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.38807



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Last Updated on December 14, 2021 by Marie Benz MD FAAD