A significant number of prisoners are addicted to opiates, such as heroin
and OxyContin. Since there is a well-documented link between drug use
and criminal charges, many people feel prisoners in short-term jails should
be given methadone treatment in order to reduce the likelihood of criminal
activity when they are released.
One such program, established in 1987, offers methadone to
drug addicts who have been charged with misdemeanor crimes. Upon release, addicts enter a community methadone
program to further help them. This program has been highly successful
and has led to fewer repeat arrests.
While we have seen that these methadone treatment programs can work, a
relatively small number of facilities offer them. There are several reasons
for this. First, critics claim that in these programs, one drug is simply
substituted for another. However, they fail to consider the different
pharmacologic properties of the substances involved. Specifically, when
methadone is consumed every day, a user does not experience a high. Further,
opiate addiction is a medical condition and not something that can be
overcome through sheer will.
Another frequent argument against in-prison treatment programs is that
they are cost-prohibitive. In reality, experts say cost is not a major
issue. A recent study revealed a cost benefit to taxpayers of $4.00 for
every dollar spent on this type of program. The study showed that drug
addicts, at high risk for hepatitis C and HIV, which are both expensive
to treat, cost the nation significantly more than recovering drug addicts do.
Further, treating inmates who are addicted to opiates is good for prison
guards, who are in constant danger of coming into contact with unsafe
injection equipment while searching cells or doing pat-downs.
There are more methadone treatment programs than there used to be, but
prisons are slow to embrace them. A number of prison officials believe
addiction treatment not to be their problem, especially when they are
already stretched thin. However, these programs are slowly increasing
Source: The Atlantic,
“Giving Prisoners Addictive Drugs: Sometimes a Good Idea,” Jessica Wapner, 25 April 2011