Locked Down…from Access to Meds

Inmates struggling with opioid addiction in Pennsylvania jails do not have adequate access to medication and are more likely to overdose later as a result, according to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. A recent report by the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), a legal aid group, revealed that opioid addiction medication in the state’s county jails was inconsistent at best and often nonexistent.

It’s considered a best practice in the medical community to offer opioid-based medications to those addicted to opioids. This helps prevent painful withdrawals and ease cravings and has a much higher success rate than quitting “cold turkey.” Yet according to this most recent study and others, Pennsylvania’s jails and prisons are not universally providing this lifesaving treatment.

Just 5% of addicted inmates in state prisons receive the medication they need to treat opioid use disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In Pennsylvania’s 62 county jails, where there is no centralized system for addressing addiction, the PILP found varying scenarios:

  • 9 jails offered no opioid addiction medication.
  • 11 jails offered it only for pregnant women.
  • 16 jails allowed prisoners already taking medications to continue them.
  • 3 jails allowed inmates to start medication while incarcerated.

Of those jails that allowed opioid medication, 16 limited it to one kind, which prevents a pleasurable high when taking an opioid. Even when jails did offer opioid medication, it was sometimes hard to get it, and significant delays caused some prisoners to enter withdrawal. Researchers noted that there’s still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding associated with opioid medication programs.

When prisoners do not get opioid medication, they face a higher risk of death by overdose after they get out, as compared to their peers who have not been incarcerated. That’s because they have lost their tolerance for the drug. The Philadelphia metro area is among the deadliest in the nation for opioid overdoses at 1,214 in 2021. Statewide, there were 5,319 opioid overdose deaths in Pennsylvania.

If you believe a loved one may be suffering human rights violations in a Pennsylvania prison, an attorney experienced in prisoner civil rights in Pennsylvania may be able to help. Please reach out to us to discuss the details of your situation.