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Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction coming to Pa. state prisons

SCI camp hill cells.jpg

Pictured is a row of cells at Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill in Camp Hill, Pa. (Marc Levy/AP)

Some people entering Pennsylvania’s state-run prisons will soon be able to get medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder.

Starting on June 1, new inmates can continue taking suboxone and oral naltrexone if they have prescriptions. Methadone will eventually be available too.

These medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat opioid dependency. Naltrexone, known by the brand-name Vivitrol, also aids with alcohol use disorder.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections reports that annually, more than 13,600 people enter state prisons with substance use disorders; about a quarter are addicted to opioids.

But until now, there wasn’t funding to offer people medication-assisted treatment during their prison sentences, and inmates were only given naltrexone as they were preparing for release. That’s despite ample data showing that medication assisted treatment is highly effective.

“If you combine psychosocial counseling services with medication you’re going to be giving people the greatest chance of having success,” said Steve Seitchik, who coordinates the medication-assisted treatment program for the department. “It’s the gold standard.”

Devin Reeves, executive director of the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition, said he’s happy that people in state prisons will now be receiving this medical care.

“I love it … We have a duty to give them the best medicine possible and for too long that hasn’t happened,” he said. “The next great step is getting our county facilities on that same level.”

The corrections department said new inmates who are taking a non-FDA approved medication for substance use disorder will have their cases reviewed to determine the best course of treatment. Stopping medication-assisted treatment for inmates will be a case-by-case, medically-based decision.

“Now how many years they are going to be on it is a question I can’t answer,” said Seitchik. “But the one thing I’m not looking at is how soon I want to taper someone off [medication-assisted treatment.]”

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