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nys assembly hearing – katal testimony on mat in prisons and jails

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New York State Assembly Hearing

Oversight: Examine the effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment programs in state and local correctional facilities.

November 14, 2018

Testimony of:

Valdez Heron, Community Organizer

Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice

Presented before:

The Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the Assembly Committee on Health, and the Assembly Committee on Corrections

Hearing Examining the Effectiveness of Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs in NewYork’s Prisons and Jails

November 14, 2018

Given what we know about the proven effectiveness of methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone in treating people with opioid dependency, combined with available research that shows improvements in outcomes for individuals post-release, the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice emphatically endorses and supports this effort to provide these medications to individuals in the state correctional system. In fact, the only reason such treatments are not available now is due to the failed war on drugs.

We know, and many elected officials and law enforcement have echoed, that we “can’t arrest our way out of” the overdose crisis we’re facing. While much of our efforts aim to reduce the number of people arrested, jailed, and incarcerated for drug-related offenses, we must also address the needs of individuals who still enter and cycle through the criminal justice system. We know that providing medication treatment while in jail and prison works.

Rhode Island, for example, demonstrated a 60% reduction in fatal overdoses among individuals released. Further, these individuals were more likely to continue their treatment post-release. Researchers at Riker’s Island found that the jail’s methadone treatment program has resulted in overall health care cost savings, reduced crime and recidivism, reduced HIV and hepatitis C transmission, and better than average rates of recovery from drug use.

The evidence is clear: we know it is effective to provide the full scope of medication therapy options (methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone) to individuals in jail and prison. Yet New York State is still stuck in the framework of the failed war on drugs, and has thus been unwilling to implement such interventions in a widespread, coordinated way. The Assembly has led efforts to move our state toward a health-oriented drug policy, and this is an area that urgently needs reform. It is beyond time that we deploy all available options to preserve life, protect public safety, and help individuals and families recover. New York must end a drug war approach to addiction, and instead implement evidence-based solutions that save lives.

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