Jails and prisons: the unmanned front in the battle against the opioid epidemic

If you have type 1 diabetes and wind up behind bars, you’ll get the insulin injections needed to control your blood sugar. If you don’t, there will be public outrage over this violation of your human rights. But if you have an opioid addiction — like type 1 diabetes, a disease that could rob you of your life — and are taking an opioid agonist medication like buprenorphine or methadone to stay sober, it’s virtually guaranteed it will be stopped the day you step foot inside your cell.

Over the next few days you’ll go through a brutal withdrawal and your risk of relapsing will soar. Once you’re released, there’s a good chance you’ll use opioids almost immediately, along with the possibility that you’ll accidentally overdose and die.

This barbaric practice happens across the country every day. As an addiction psychiatrist, I’ve heard horror stories from patients who’ve been through it, most recently my patient Shawn (I’ve changed his name for privacy).

Brian Barnett/STAT