An opium addict sitting on her bed with her knees close to herself as she hides her face in a cloth.
Prison Health Issues

Philadelphia Women’s Prison Tries Bold Experiment Giving Inmates Opioids

Philadelphia Women’s Prisons prescribing synthetic opioids to inmates upon release. Experiment is in the hopes to reduce fatal overdoses after release.

According to the scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependency, a third of inmates die from an overdose of heroin after being released from prison. For a city where opioid overdose is already high, the jail systems are looking ways to change it.

Jon Lepley, a physician, discussing addiction treatment plans with an inmate at Riverside Correctional Facility.
Jon Lepley, a physician at RCF, claims that the main goal with this treatment plan is to decrease the number of drug-related deaths of released prisoners. Image Source:

Their Solution: Fentanyl, A Synthetic Opioid

The problem with this is, Fentanyl is a known killer more than heroin. As a synthetic opioid, it is a known ingredient in the drug they prescribe Buprenorphine. Riverside Correctional Facility prescribes this to inmates upon release. They hope to stop the overdoses of inmates when they return to the streets and perhaps to drugs.

Buprenorphine is what the doctors feel is the “best shot” at recovery. The inmates in Riverside are only there for 14 days. This is not enough time to really treat a serious opioid addiction. Most of the inmates have gone through the tough part of cleaning themselves out. Obviously, there is a zero policy in play for opioids. So how is this a solution?

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An opium addict sitting on her bed with her knees close to herself as she hides her face in a cloth.
Drug rehab is not a pleasant experience for anyone starting out, which is why it’s important to find the right treatments that work in the long run, rather than a temporary fix. Image Source: flickr

According to statistics, overdosing has been happening far more often. This is because the city’s drug supply has been laced with Fentanyl without user’s knowing. It’s a cheap way to cut the weaker drugs and make the dealers more money.

When addicts are put back into the community and go back to using, they are given a drug that claims lives at a fast rate.

In 2017, there were over 1,200 opioid overdoses because Fentanyl is ten times deadlier than heroin. And many addicts mix it with cocaine, making it more dangerous than a normal “speed ball”.

But Is Fentanyl Really the Answer?

There are many problems with this program. The one-for-all approach of the same low dose for each (not tailored to the individual) hasn’t been working. When inmates are released, they are given the prescription. Unfortunately, many don’t have insurance and the drug costs up to $300.

Another issue is, if the date of release and the date on the prescription doesn’t line up, pharmacists won’t fill it. The system says it has its kinks to work out to make it smoother.

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Many advocates find this program is a good idea because it worked in Rhode Island. They cut their overdose rates by 60.5 percent (according to a study published in Jama Psychiatry).

If the medicine is not readily available to all, and the main ingredient in the prescription is the same drug being laced in the community, is it helping? Or getting their system ready for the drug that is killing a percentage of the same town?

So, is this medication actually helping the inmates? Or is it an experiment they are using on the inmates in hopes of solving the opioid crisis?

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Tiffany M Arnold
As a little girl Tiffany M Arnold displayed a creative spirit. She truly believes writing is her form of art to foster conversations that positively impact the world. Tiffany loves to express herself through stories that make you think beyond the pages, beyond the book and within yourself. She hopes, in every story there is a message for someone. Ms. Arnold currently reports prison news for PRN online.