Warren Ferguson in STAT and Boston Globe: Prisons and jails need support to fight opioid addiction

UMass Medical School Communications

August 15, 2017
  Warren J. Ferguson, MD

Warren J. Ferguson, MD

Medication-assisted treatment has proven to be a powerful weapon in communities across the country in efforts to stem the tide of the opioid epidemic. Now, Warren J. Ferguson, MD, is studying how jails and prisons can implement that model, according to reports by STAT and The Boston Globe.

Dr. Ferguson, vice chair and professor of family medicine & community health, director of academic programs of the Health and Criminal Justice Program, and founder and co-chair of the Academic and Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health, has been working closely with prisons and jails in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut to determine medication-assisted treatment best practices.

Ferguson told the Globe that Rhode Island is a leader in its approach to offer multiple forms of medication-assisted treatment to all inmates.

“I’m really hopeful we’re going to see some data coming out of Rhode Island that demonstrates, wow, this might really be an improvement to safety and security in the long haul,” Ferguson told the Globe.

Convincing other correctional facilities to embrace this approach may take more than just Rhode Island success, he said. It requires understanding how prisons and jails operate, and what may be holding them back.

When asked by STAT about the challenges of fighting addiction behind bars, Ferguson said, “What are some of the facilitators and barriers to establishing those programs? What are some of the adaptations that need to be made for that to be successful?”

Prison officials have concerns that drugs used to combat opioid addiction—buprenorphine and methadone—could be diverted and sold illegally, Ferguson said.

Vivitrol, a drug administered upon release that lasts up to four weeks, has been more popular among law enforcement officials.

“If the primary mission of a correctional facility is safety and security, and health care is secondary to that, if you look at it through that lens, you can understand why correctional facilities are enthusiastic about antagonists” like Vivitrol, Ferguson told STAT.

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