When people with diabetes, cancer, or HIV are arrested and incarcerated, they have a right to receive medical care in the criminal justice system. So too do people with opioid addiction, according to a comprehensive memorandum provided to the Bloomberg American Health Initiative by the law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. 

Unfortunately, few people with opioid addiction or on parole are able to receive treatment following arrest. Even fewer are able to receive treatment with the effective medications buprenorphine and methadone. The result is that people with addiction may lose their tolerance to opioids while incarcerated, placing them at higher risk of overdose and death upon release.

Some jails and prisons are improving their practices. In Rhode Island, for example, treatment with medications has helped reduce the overdose rate among those leaving detention by 60%.  And change may be coming to more criminal justice systems, as more people with opioid addiction assert their rights under the 8th Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Recently, in Massachusetts, a federal judge issued an injunction preventing a jail from forcibly ending treatment with methadone for an individual in care.

To create a resource for understanding the legal basis  of access to care,  Akin Gump detailed the right to access medications for opioid addiction in the criminal justice system. Questions about the memorandum, and how it might be used to improve access to effective treatment, can be directed to americanhealth@jhu.edu. 

Read the memo here.