Under a new pilot program, some Virginia probationers and inmates nearing release who have a history of opioid addiction are receiving an injection of naltrexone, a drug that blocks the effects of the narcotic.
The Virginia Department of Corrections said its Medication Assisted Treatment Reentry Initiative is intended to provide pre-release treatment and post-release referral, treatment and support for opioid-addicted offenders.
Harold Clarke, director of the department, said in a statement Friday, “When offenders come into the system addicted to opioids, it is our responsibility to do all we can to help them return to society free from that addiction.”
Inmates don’t always abuse opioids on the outside before they are locked up. Drugs also get into the prisons via mail, visitors, staff and other means. The department said at least 12 inmates have died from heroin or fentanyl overdoses in Virginia prisons since 2015.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 65 percent of the U.S. prison population in 2010 met the medical criteria for drug or alcohol addiction, but fewer than 11 percent received treatment.
A Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman said Friday that roughly 12,500 inmates are released from prison each year, and an estimated 45 percent of those released in the year that ended June 30, 2017, were deemed high risk for substance abuse.
Virginia and seven other states were selected by the National Governors Association last year to study improved access to treatment for opioid-addicted arrestees and prisoners.
The governors’ association said more prisons are using medication-assisted treatments, and that many other states have pilot programs using extended-release naltrexone and are looking at other treatment and rehabilitation practices.