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Mental Health Update

June 1, 2021
Mental Health Update

MH Update – 6/1/21 – Passage of Legislation Expanding Medication Assistance Therapy in Correctional Facilities

Medication Assistance Therapy (MAT) has been an important part of recovery for people with addiction disorders. While MAT is more widely spread than before, there are still a number of settings where availability of MAT is limited.

One such setting is in correctional facilities.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 65% of all individuals in the prison system have an addiction disorder. Yet only a few facilities offer MAT. Think of the repercussions of someone who has had an addiction and while completely off MAT will be released into the community. For many people, it means going back to their addiction because while incarcerated they did not have the option of being on MAT.  Had they been on these medications, their chance for living a successful life in recovery dramatically increases as detailed in the below article.

How do I know this—it is personal.  A person who has become a good friend during our family recovery journey was discharged from prison a year ago without MAT. He went right back to his addiction and was re-incarcerated within a few months.  Would MAT have made a difference for him?  We don’t know for sure but his chances of living in the community would have dramatically increased.

It is time we create a multi-pronged approach to MAT in prison. This legislation introduced by Senator Harckham and Assemblymember Rosenthal will move us in a positive direction.  Since it has passed both houses, it will go to the Governor’s desk for signature. Before this comes to the Governor’s desk,  we will help work with our colleagues to create grassroots support.

Attached is an article from the Albany Times Union from May 28th detailing the legislation and the fight for the bill’s passage.


NY lawmakers pass bill to bring addiction medicine to all state prisons, jails

Most incarcerated New Yorkers are currently denied access to the lifesaving treatment

Bethany Bump

May 28, 2021Updated: May 28, 2021 8:55 a.m.


ALBANY — The state Assembly has passed legislation that requires every county jail and state prison in New York to make medication assisted treatment available to incarcerated individuals suffering from addiction.

The legislation passed Wednesday, one week after the Senate passed a companion bill, and now heads to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s desk for approval or veto. If approved, it would bring New York in line with only seven other states that make the lifesaving, evidence-based treatment available to people who’ve been imprisoned.

“Nothing epitomizes the War on Drugs like caging a person struggling with substance use disorder and denying them access to lifesaving medical support that can relieve their suffering and save their life,” said Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who has pushed for the change for years. “Today, we move to relegate this barbaric reality to the past.”

Medication assisted treatment, or MAT, uses a combination of medication and therapy to help people curb cravings and reduce withdrawal pains. But stigma around addiction has historically made the medication extremely hard to get.

Access has increased in recent years as overdose deaths have soared, but the imprisoned population has not enjoyed the same access as everyone else — even though they are far more likely to be addicted than the general population because of laws that criminalize drug use. In New York, only six of the state’s 52 correctional facilities currently offer the treatment.

“This bill requiring medication for substance use disorder throughout New York’s jails and prisons will save lives and help heal families and communities, particularly of Black and brown New Yorkers who have been disproportionately impacted by racist drug policy and mass incarceration,” said Christine Khaikin, senior health policy attorney with the Legal Action Center. 

Studies have found that MAT drastically reduces a person’s chance of relapse and overdose, which is especially high for people just released from detention. One study found people who are newly released from incarceration were 40 times more likely to die from a drug overdose in the weeks after release than the general population, in part because their tolerance has dropped.

“We are in the midst of the worst overdose epidemic in decades… the right to health care does not end behind bars, and this bill will ensure that incarcerated individuals receive the lifesaving care they need and deserve,” Khaikin said.

The new legislation would require the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision commissioner to establish a program at all state correctional facilities that includes all forms of MAT currently authorized for treatment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This includes buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone.

The legislation says the commissioner must also work with local governments and county sheriffs to develop a program for county jails, which can apply for a limited exemption if there are no providers within a reasonable distance and with the necessary accreditation to administer MAT. If that’s the case, they can contract with a community- or jail-based program to provide the service.

Jails and prisons would not be allowed to deny MAT to those who want it at any time during their incarceration, even if the person has had a positive drug screening or disciplinary infraction, the bill text says.

This year’s state budget allocates $11 million to state prisons and $8.75 million to county jails to help implement the program.

In addition to MAT, the legislation requires jails and prisons to provide incarcerated people a one-week supply of the medication upon their release and information about where to find a treatment provider in their area. The facilities must also provide information about available housing and employment resources, and assistance with Medicaid enrollment before the person is released.