March 16, 2018

Public Health Committee Hears Bill to Address Opioid Overdose Crisis

Public Health Committee Co-Chair Senator Terry Gerratana (D—New Britain) today announced her support for Senate Bill 172, which would phase in a comprehensive opioid treatment program at the Department of Correction.

“Overdoses claimed more than 1,000 lives in Connecticut last year. This is a public health crisis,” said Sen. Gerratana. “Last year, more than half of the people we lost to overdose were previously incarcerated. Yet the Department of Corrections does not have the resources to offer evidence-based, medication-assisted treatment to most individuals.
We have a moral duty to do better.”

“Treating inmates for this addiction will save money by reducing future health care costs, preventing unnecessary deaths, and leading to a reduction in crime,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney in written testimony. “This bill represents smart and compassionate policy,”

Senate Bill 172 would require the Department of Correction to phase in a comprehensive medication-assisted treatment program for incarcerated people with opioid-use disorder over the next four years. Today, even though more than 50 percent of overdose deaths occur among the previously incarcerated, most incarcerated people have no access to this evidence-based treatment.

The Department of Correction operates a small pilot program in four facilities to provide treatment. The program has successfully treated nearly 1,000 inmates. Those who are unable to join the pilot program due to its limited size, however, are forced to stop treatment. In nearly all cases, individuals who would like to start treatment in jail or prison are not given that opportunity.

Providing access to medication-assisted treatment in prison is an emerging national model. Rhode Island was the first state in the country to create a comprehensive medication-assisted treatment program in its correctional facilities in 2016, and it saw a 61 percent decrease in post-incarceration overdose deaths in the first six months. The Presidential Commission on Combating Drug Addiction, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration all recommend providing medication-assisted treatment in correctional facilities.

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is the gold standard for opioid-use disorder treatment nationally. Individuals on MAT for opioid-use disorder receive methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, along with other psychosocial supports, to reduce their cravings and help them to function successfully in society. The latest studies have found that individuals who receive treatment are 85 percent less likely to die of overdose on release and have a 15-25 percent lower recidivism rate than untreated individuals.