Blog Medication-Assisted Treatment for Washington Inmates Shows Promise

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Washington Inmates Shows Promise

the inside of a jail

Opioid addiction treatment is being given to inmates in Washington jails as part of a larger, nationwide trend to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to incarcerated individuals. The cycle of addiction to illicit drugs often results in reincarceration. Without treatment in jails, this cycle may never be broken.

Growing evidence illustrates the effectiveness of addiction treatment in jails and prisons. Since 2018, the Washington Department of Corrections has developed treatment opportunities in both state and county jails. Their efforts include:

  • MAT with FDA-approved medicines, including methadone, buprenorphine, Suboxone, and naltrexone
  • Counseling
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Drug court for incarceration alternatives
  • Nasal naloxone overdose prevention kits for released inmates
  • Assessment and addiction screening

The Opioid Epidemic in Washington

According to the Washington State Department of Health, the opioid epidemic in Washington state claimed 694 lives in 2016. Opioid overdose deaths may involve prescription opioids, synthetic opioids, or heroin. If someone doesn’t receive treatment for opioid addiction while they’re incarcerated, their risk of death by overdose increases.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons explains that a cycle of incarceration can be perpetuated by ongoing drug dependence. They have found that drug treatment in prison is effective for:

  • Relapse prevention
  • Reduced criminal activity after release
  • Reduced recidivism, or return to prison for crimes
  • Reduced misconduct among inmates
  • Higher levels of education and employment after imprisonment
  • Improved mental health and relationships

There are a variety of treatment options sponsored by various federal, state, and local organizations. Some of these are primarily behavioral, while many are beginning to incorporate medically assisted treatment options.

Medically Assisted Treatment in Prison Populations

Providing MAT for prisoners is increasingly mandated for prisons across the nation. For example, in 2018 in Washington state, Whatcom County Jail was sued by the Ameican Civil Liberties Union for not providing opioid addiction treatment medication. Also, in May of 2019, the United States Court of Appeals in Boston ruled that a prison in Maine was required to provide an inmate with medical treatment for opioid use disorder.

Encouraging Outcomes

Suboxone, buprenorphine, and other opioid antagonist drugs may help reduce opioid cravings. Statistics of Suboxone success indicate that it is a viable choice among opioid recovery options. Experts have found that because it isn’t used to get high, Suboxone is less frequently abused and more often used appropriately to recover from opioid dependence.

Using opioid antagonist drugs can be a helpful start to recovering from opioid use disorder. This kind of medically assisted opioid treatment gives those who are dependent on opioids the time they may need to select a course for long-term addiction treatment without the distraction of withdrawals or cravings.

Hurdles to Distributing Medication in Prisons

There are still hurdles to overcome in administering proper opioid recovery medication in prisons. For example, Medicaid does not extend to people who are incarcerated. Also, while buprenorphine cost may be offset by grants of federal funding, this is often a short-term solution.

Additional issues related to providing MAT cited by officials in various prisons in Washington include the lack of qualified medical staff and the risk of MAT medication abuse. Overall, jail administrators are supportive of these efforts that lead to treatment for inmates.

If you or someone you know is part of the cycle of drug addiction, there are many opportunities for treatment. The Recovery Village Ridgefield offers treatment for opioid addiction at our residential facility in the scenic Pacific Northwest. Reach out to a representative today to learn more and get the help you or a loved one deserve.


ACLU Washington. “ACLU of Washington lawsuit: Whatcom County Jail violating ADA by refusing medication to people with opioid use disorder.” June 7, 2018. Accessed August 28, 2019.

Baxter, Erasmus. “Washington jails see hope in medication to treat opioid addiction behind bars.” The Seattle Times, August 5, 2019. Accessed August 28, 2019.

Federal Bureau of Prisons. “Substance Abuse Treatment.” Accessed August 28, 2019.

Friederich, Rachel. “Corrections Takes Steps to Help Curb State’s Opioid Epidemic.” Department of Corrections Washington State, November 13, 2018. Accessed August 28, 2019.

United States Court of Appeals First Circuit, Boston. “No. 19-1340.” May 2019. Accessed August 28, 2019.

Velander, Jennifer R. “Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions.” Ochsner Journal, Spring 2018. Accessed August 28, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.