Commentary & Opinion

Improved Drug Treatment Services Needed in Prisons to Address HIV/AIDS, Other Diseases, Editorial Says

April 14, 2009

Increased efforts are needed to curb the spread of HIV and other bloodborne diseases in prisons, "where infection rates are high and inmates can easily spread disease through unprotected sex or by sharing needles," a New York Times editorial says. It adds, "Drug treatment in prison is clearly part of the solution. But by some estimates, fewer than one in five inmates who need formal treatment are actually getting it." This is "alarming, given that about half the prison population suffers from drug abuse or dependency problems," according to the editorial. The editorial continues that the "most effective programs provide inmates with high-quality treatment in prison and continue that treatment when prisoners return to their communities." In addition, treatment programs "have been shown to reduce drug use and recidivism," the editorial says.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, prisons "typically rely on the abstinence-only model, which fails miserably with heroin addicts," the editorial says. It adds that "prison officials are notoriously hostile toward methadone maintenance and other chemically based therapies that have long been a standard for people addicted to opiates." The editorial says that treatment for drug users in New York state prisons is "particularly disastrous," according to a new report from Human Rights Watch, which says that drug users in prison are "typically shut out of treatment until their sentences are nearly over because of ill-conceived policies that give priority to those who are about to be released."

The editorial continues that "[n]ew rules created earlier this month should help address these problems" in New York. The rules give "oversight responsibility for prison treatment programs to the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, an agency that develops treatment programs and licenses treatment providers," the editorial says. Under the new rules, treatment programs will be "tailored to inmates' needs," and the agency will monitor the programs and provide annual reports to the governor and Legislature, the editorial adds. It concludes that "[d]rug-policy advocates hope that the new arrangement will improve treatment and provide timely help for addicted inmates. That would be good for public health. It could reduce crime, too" (New York Times, 4/13).

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