HARTFORD, CT — It didn’t receive much attention Wednesday, but Gov. Ned Lamont made two proposals during his budget address that he’s hoping will reduce opioid deaths.
He included $500,000 in funding to develop a plan to address the gaps in the state’s treatment of substance use disorder, and he dedicated $2 million in the first year and $6 million in the second year of the budget to expand a medication-assisted treatment programs in prison.
Treating prisoners may sound to some like a losing proposition, but 52 percent of people in Connecticut who died of a drug overdose had at one point been in a correctional facility, according to the state budget document.
The data shows that formerly incarcerated individuals are 8 to 11 times more likely to overdose in the first few weeks after release.
Most prisoners are taken off treatment when they enter jail or prison. The state treats only a small number of people in six facilities. Those in other facilities detox in their cells.
Connecticut has had a pilot program in six correctional facilities since 2013, but has not funded expansion of the program over the past six years.
Legislation to expand the program last year died on the Senate calendar. That legislation would have phased in the program to all correctional facilities over four years. It was expected to cost around $2.7 million in the first year and $6.3 million in the second year depending on how many inmates utilized the program.
It assumed the program would cost about $100 weekly per inmate and it estimated that 10.5-25 percent of the inmate population would qualify and participate in the program.
Dr. Bachaar Arnaout, an addiction psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine, who testified in favor of legislation last year, has said there is very little access to treatment in the prison system.
“Opioid addiction is a chronic relapsing condition,” Arnaout said. “Enforcing abstinence during incarceration is no solution for it.”
Even worse is that it can be a death sentence because it will make overdose following release more likely due to a lower tolerance.
Buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone are the three drugs that should be administered to opioid addicted inmates to reduce addiction and keep them in treatment, Arnaout said.
Only two states in the country, Rhode Island and Vermont, have medicated-assisted treatment in all of their correctional facilities. There are similar initiatives in Massachusetts, New York, Washington, and the federal prisons.
In Rhode Island, a comprehensive MAT program reduced deaths by 60 percent among recently incarcerated people in its first six months of operation. Similar results in Connecticut would mean 100-150 saved lives every year, said Sam Marullo, a Yale University Law student who worked for Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo when it was implemented there.
On March 4, the Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the Department of Corrections budget, which includes the initiative.