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Correctional health collaborative to focus on substance abuse, hepatitis C

By Jennifer Rosinski

UMass Medical School Communications

December 15, 2015
  Warren J. Ferguson, MD

Warren J. Ferguson, MD

UMass Medical School will partner with academic medical centers to create a correctional health practice collaborative focused on implementing evidence-based treatments for substance use disorders and hepatitis C in state prison systems.

Treatment teams from four yet-to-be-confirmed prison and jail systems from the United States will be guided by implementation science experts as they work to apply evidence-based care for substance use disorders, with emphasis on opioids, as well as screening and treatment for hepatitis C.

“This is the our first effort to bring prison and jail systems together to work on a breakthrough collaborative,” said Warren J. Ferguson, MD, vice chair and professor of family medicine & community health, director of academic programs for the Health and Criminal Justice Program, and founder and co-chair of the Academic and Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health.

“Experts and providers who are in the trenches providing or coordinating care in correctional settings will work together and learn from each other,” said Dr. Ferguson. “In concentrating on substance use disorder and hepatitis C, we strive toward care improvements that will have the largest impact on justice-involved populations.”

About 80 percent of the prison population has a substance use disorder and more than 17 percent are infected with hepatitis C, according to recent research. Despite that, most prisons and jails have not adopted effective treatments and best practices.

“If we release inmates with these untreated health conditions to the community, there are several risks,” Ferguson said. “They could spread hepatitis C infection to others, and evidence from Washington state suggests that those with substance use disorders are 125 times more likely to die from an overdose during the first two weeks after release.”

Substance use disorder will be the first focus area, with teams from the health care systems identifying a single site to test implementation of evidence-based practices. Teams will conduct an inventory of current screening and treatment practices for opioid addiction and make recommendations for improvements based on proven methods.

Improvements in the areas of hepatitis C screening and treatment will be the second project, expected to begin in 2017.

The initiative is supported through two grants: one four-year grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one three-year grant from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. The funding will be used, in part, to develop an implementation science track at the Academic and Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health, hosted by the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health and supported by UMass Medical School.