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Pharmacotherapy for opioid dependence in jails and prisons: research review update and future directions

Authors Sharma A, O'Grady K, Kelly S, Gryczynski J, Mitchell S, Schwartz R

Received 11 November 2015

Accepted for publication 10 February 2016

Published 27 April 2016 Volume 2016:7 Pages 27—40


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Li-Tzy Wu

Anjalee Sharma,1 Kevin E O'Grady,1,2 Sharon M Kelly,1 Jan Gryczynski,1 Shannon Gwin Mitchell,1 Robert P Schwartz1

1Friends Research Institute, Baltimore, 2Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

Purpose: The World Health Organization recommends the initiation of opioid agonists prior to release from incarceration to prevent relapse or overdose. Many countries in the world employ these strategies. This paper considers the evidence to support these recommendations and the factors that have slowed their adoption in the US.
Methods: We reviewed randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and longitudinal/observational studies that examine participant outcomes associated with the initiation or continuation of opioid agonists (methadone, buprenorphine) or antagonists (naltrexone) during incarceration. Papers were identified through a literature search of PubMed with an examination of their references and were included if they reported outcomes for methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone continued during incarceration or initiated prior to release in a correctional institution.
Results: Fourteen studies were identified, including eight RCTs and six observational studies. One RCT found that patients treated with methadone who were continued on versus tapered off methadone during brief incarceration were more likely to return to treatment upon release. A second RCT found that the group starting methadone treatment in prison versus a waiting list was less likely to report using heroin and sharing syringes during incarceration. A third RCT found no differences in postrelease heroin use or reincarceration between individuals initiating treatment with methadone versus those initiating treatment with buprenorphine during relatively brief incarcerations. Findings from four additional RCTs indicate that starting opioid agonist treatment during incarceration versus after release was associated with higher rates of entry into community treatment and reduced heroin use. Finally, one pilot RCT showed that providing extended-release naltrexone prior to discharge resulted in significantly lower rates of opioid relapse compared to no medication.
Conclusion: Reasons why uptake of these pharmacotherapies is limited in the US and relatively widespread in Europe are discussed. Recommendations for future research are outlined.

Keywords: methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, heroin, corrections, incarceration

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