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New study helps ex-inmates prevent drug addiction relapse

Bouncing back after drug abuse is never easy, and it is even harder for prisoners who have served time and are now re-entering society. A Yale University program seeks to study drug treatment to help former inmates from Malaysia and Connecticut fight heroin addiction outside prison. The study, which already raised $6.4 million in federal grants, is the first of its kind to involve subjects outside of the United States. It’s goal is to improve intervention techniques and address the relationships among drug addiction, infectious diseases (such as HIV), and mental illnesses among ex-inmates.

Previous researches have shown that prisoners who received successful drug treatment while in the prison setting usually relapsed within 12 weeks after their release from prison, mostly because the health insurance they enjoyed before incarceration already lapsed, and they could not get new support right away.

“Prisoners suddenly released to the community with two weeks of medications and a medical referral may find the health insurance they had prior to incarceration has been discontinued,” explained Frederick L. Altice, M.D., a Yale School of Medicine professor and also head of the research team. “In many cases, it may take weeks to months to regain the health entitlements,” he further explained.

The study will use a comprehensive and unique “care model” that aims to prevent relapse to heroin abuse, and also prevent mental illnesses, risky HIV-causing behaviors, and even homelessness. Techniques that have been proven to work in community settings made up of inmates awaiting release will be used. Buprenorphine, which is a known treatment for dependence on opioid, will be administered to heroin users. These ex-inmates will also be given “money managers” which will help them design budget plans that will reduce their spending on impulse buys, especially drugs. An outreach team will be organized to encourage prisoners to continue going to psychiatric treatment sessions and medical care.

“Results from the study will help inform public health professionals about how best to create prison-release programs for particularly challenging populations,” said Altice. “There has recently been a sea change as prison systems grapple with these problems and consider developing and testing programs to find solutions that target the needs of some of the most challenging populations,” added Altice.

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