Suboxone is incarceration prevention in a bottle.

A wonderful “side effect” of Suboxone treatment is that it helps keep people out of trouble and out of jail.

Suboxone treatment is associated with big drops in criminal activity and incarceration, a recent study shows.

Only 2 percent of opiate-dependent people treated with Suboxone reported committing crimes as compared to 19 percent of those who are untreated.

Only 1 percent of opiate-dependent people treated with Suboxone reported having contact with the criminal justice system as compared to 16 percent of those who are not in treatment.

The study analyzed data from a randomized clinical trial of 166 opiate-dependent people and was conducted in a primary care clinic.  Opiates include heroin and prescription pain killers like Oxycontin.  The study was reported at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Internal Medicine.

These results don’t surprise me.  They are very much in line with what I observe working as a counselor with opiate-dependent clients.

People who are addicted to opiates often feel driven to commit crimes that they do not want to commit.  And the consequences are devastating.

Years of youth, young adulthood and adulthood are often lost to incarceration.  Marriages end and families have broken apart.  Inmates often experience violence.  Incarcerated people in need of mental health and drug treatment rarely get the care they need.  And medical care is often of poor quality.

I don’t share the cavalier attitude of many in the tough love crowd who view incarceration as a good thing.

After working with hundreds of opiate-dependent inmates and former inmates, I have concluded that:

  • Incarceration can result in serious and permanent harm
  • Incarceration is not necessary to recovery, and other options are both more effective and less risky
  • Incarceration is not treatment and is not effective in building long term recovery
  • Incarceration delays recovery
  • Cycling in and out of jail is destabilizing and makes achieving the stability necessary for long term recovery more difficult
  • Incarcerating people living with addiction instead of offering them a realistic path to recovery including effective treatment is immoral

I have seen how Suboxone treatment drastically reduces criminal activity and incarceration.  This is of great benefit to our communities both because there are fewer victims of crime, and because incarcerating people is very expensive (in my state it costs about $50,000 per person per year).  But also important is the benefit to those who are living with opiate addiction, their children and other family members.

Since Suboxone treatment helps cut crime and risk of incarceration, Suboxone treatment may be especially useful for those who are:

  • committing crimes
  • on probation or parole
  • in drug court

It often makes sense for Suboxone patients who are on probation/parole or enrolled in drug court to continue with medication-assisted treatment at least until they are no longer under the supervision of the criminal justice system.

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