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ME Expands Medication-Assisted Treatment for People in Prison

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More Mainers died of opioid overdoses in January than in any month of 2020, and 2020 saw more overdose deaths in the state than any previous year on record. (Simone/Adobe Stock)
More Mainers died of opioid overdoses in January than in any month of 2020, and 2020 saw more overdose deaths in the state than any previous year on record. (Simone/Adobe Stock)
 By Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - ME - Producer, Contact
February 24, 2021

AUGUSTA, Maine - The Maine Department of Corrections is expanding its program for medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction to any person in jail or prison who medically qualifies.

In 2019, the department launched a pilot program with 100 participants, and has been slowly phasing it into more facilities. Research has shown that medication-assisted treatment can reduce cravings, which allows people to engage in counseling and treatment more effectively.

Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty said they expect to treat up to 600 people once the program is fully implemented.

"Substance-use disorder is a disease," he said, "and the gold standard - to treat that and really provide the best care we can for the citizens of the state of Maine - is to provide medication-assisted treatment, and that means on the outside and on the inside."

More Mainers died of overdoses in January than in any month last year. Advocates of the program have called it a step in the right direction, but emphasized the need to get people into treatment rather than into jail or prison in the first place. Oregon recently became the first U.S. state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illegal drugs; it's now a civil violation, with a fine and court-ordered therapy.

People who've returned to their communities after being incarcerated are far more likely to die of an opioid overdose than the general population. Liberty noted that the harm caused by addiction can be multigenerational, as whole families often are affected. He said those are some of the factors that have pushed the treatment program forward.

"Those individuals that have been in our care during the pilot phase of our program have had reduced cravings, reducing anxiety, increased interest in recovery," he said.

Liberty said rolling out the program also marks a culture shift in corrections because of misconceptions about using medication in recovery. However, he added, continuing discussions and education with staff and partners have made him optimistic about the program's future.

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