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What New Jersey’s experience tells us about correctional treatment programs

June 15, 2022

States and localities are encouraged to use opioid litigation dollars to improve opioid use disorder treatment in jails and prisons. The vast majority of correctional facilities do not provide access to buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone, the three medications approved to treat opioid use disorder. Treating people with these medications in correctional facilities has been shown to decrease overdose mortality risk and increase treatment retention, and reduce recidivism. Additionally, studies have shown that the use of medications in carceral settings reduces the risk of suicide, increases effective participation in court proceedings, and decreases disciplinary infractions.

A recent study examined the efforts of three New Jersey Departments – Corrections, Health and Human Services – to expand access to medications in correctional facilities. Researchers interviewed jail staff to assess the current capacity of jails to offer these medications and explore the challenges associated with implementation of these treatments.

The key findings from this study and takeaways for other states include:

  • Partnerships are critical for program success  

As jail infrastructure can vary across and within states, this research highlights the importance of partnerships in successful jail programs that use medications to treat opioid use disorder. In this example, the New Jersey Department of Human Services established two centers whose mission is to increase statewide capacity to provide standard of care treatment for patients with substance use disorder. They provided one-on-one education and training to jail clinicians on how to deliver the medications. 

  • The need for re-entry services  

In the research, programs in New Jersey reported having at least one full time re-entry counselor at each jail who was responsible for care continuity and served as the point of contact for community organizations working with individuals released from jail. These re-entry counselors also assisted individuals in reactivating or reapplying for health insurance to reduce barriers to continue opioid treatment. This is a critical service as continued treatment upon release reduces the risk of overdose and overdose death.

However, individuals who were interviewed reported that re-entry coordination is only successful when community-based services to continue medication treatment are available. Increasing access to treatment in the community ensures individuals leaving jail have a community provider to continue their treatment and continued treatment reduces the risk of overdose and overdose death. 

  • The importance of evaluating jail treatment programs  

The current evaluation strategy in New Jersey includes monthly reporting of the use of the program. Jails and prisons are required to report intakes, screenings, initiation and continuation of medications in their facilities to show the utility of the expansion program. This model of reporting and the state’s data collection tool could be replicated in other state agencies and county jails to ease data collection burden, inform program planning and improve outcomes.

As states and localities consider investing in treatment programs in jails, and prisons, they should consider these lessons. More information can be found on correctional treatment facilities in The Primer on Spending Funds from the Opioid Litigation.