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NC Expands Treatment for Opioid-Use Disorder in Jails

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is spearheading an effort to make medication assisted treatment available to people in jail or prison who are in recovery from opioid use.

Federal courts in Maine and Massachusetts have ruled recently that people who are in recovery and entering prison should be allowed to continue using medications while they’re incarcerated, as part of their constitutional rights.

Kody Kinsley, deputy secretary for Behavioral Health & Intellectual Development Disabilities with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, says being in prison tends to worsen existing substance abuse disorders and mental illness.

“Individuals that leave an incarcerated setting are 40 times more likely to die in the first two weeks than the general population, because of an opioid overdose,” he points out.

Methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone are currently the only FDA approved medications for treating opioid-use disorder.

Detention centers in Durham, New Hanover, and Buncombe counties have already begun implementing MAT programs.

Kinsley adds research shows that offering these medications in jails reduces overdoses and the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C, which have skyrocketed among prison populations in the past few decades.

“We have seen over time – due to a series of policies, probably for the past 30 years – more folks with behavioral health illnesses, ranging from mental illness and substance use disorder, increase in the jail population,” he states.

Kinsley says the state is still refining its approach to ensure an individual’s access to medication isn’t abruptly cut off.

“Someone’s jail sentence or time in jail can abruptly end, right?” he points out. “The charges can be dismissed. And so, what we don’t want to happen is for folks to have their treatment abruptly ended just because they’re leaving jail.”

Kinsley also notes the decision to begin medication-assisted treatment should be made by the individual and his or her medical provider, not by a correctional facility or the justice system.

According to the National Sheriffs’ Association, jail MAT programs have so far expanded into 30 states.

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