POINT OF VIEW: Bill in Congress would help curb ex-con overdoses

Prisoners addicted to opioids are at an extremely high risk of overdose in the period right after their release. A bill that just passed the House is designed to help.

Sign up for The Palm Beach Post FREE weekly Opinion newsletter: Text Opinion to 444999

Post-incarceration overdose risk is a consequence of how the body responds to the use and non-use of opioids. Long-term, regular use of opioids (e.g., OxyContin, heroin) results in physical tolerance, meaning that larger and larger doses are needed to get the same effect. Because obtaining a steady supply of drugs in prison is very difficult, opioid-addicted offenders generally lose tolerance while behind bars. The result: If they take their “usual dose” after leaving prison, the effects can be fatal.

In a perfect world, opioid-addicted prisoners would leave incarceration already linked to a substance-use disorder treatment provider that would give them care from their first day back in the community. But bureaucratic hurdles often prevent this from happening.

Medicaid coverage, which would normally cover such addiction treatment, typically shuts off when someone is incarcerated, on the assumption that the correctional facility will cover inmates’ health care. Getting that coverage reestablished after release can be a weeks- or months-long struggle, during which many drug-addicted individuals relapse or overdose.

The Medicaid Reentry Act, sponsored by Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., is intended to cut this red tape and get addicted prisoners the care they need. The bill’s key provision is to encourage states to experiment with reestablishing Medicaid coverage a month before an inmate’s release, eliminating any gaps in addiction-related care.

The experience of Rhode Island suggests that this approach could save lives. A recent study of the state’s new policy of providing medication-assisted treatment (e.g., methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone) to opioid-addicted offenders during and after incarceration decreased fatal overdoses among former prisoners by 60.5 percent.

Tonko’s bill has moved to the Senate. If lawmakers there are wise enough to pass it and President Donald Trump signs it, it will be an important step in turning back the epidemic of opioid overdose.


Editor’s note: Humphreys is a professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and is an affiliated faculty member at Stanford Law School and the Stanford Neurosciences Institute. He wrote this for The Washington Post.

Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: Kavanaugh circus includes plenty of sideshows

If the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process has revealed anything, it is that there’s an antidote for disaffection toward Republicans: Give Democrats the upper hand for about five minutes. Anyone tuning in to the first Senate Judiciary Committee hearings earlier this month surely thought they had flipped to a circus show featuring Cory Booker...
Commentary: Women are leading the wave
Commentary: Women are leading the wave

Who runs the world? Come on, we all know that answer, especially in this midterm cycle. Women are leading from the front this election cycle and pulling the rest of politics with them. And that’s not just women candidates, but also women voters. The midterms will see women candidates riding the wave into office in November, and there are plenty...
Commentary: Women won’t vote for only Democratic women candidates
Commentary: Women won’t vote for only Democratic women candidates

A blue wave of Democratic women is coming in November, poised to win every office from city dog catcher to U.S. senator and lead the resistance to President Donald J. Trump. That’s what many headlines would have us believe. If the dream scenario plays out for Democrats, history would mark January 21, 2017, as the day this particular blue wave...
POINT OF VIEW: Business district cuts future traffic, manages growth
POINT OF VIEW: Business district cuts future traffic, manages growth

The West Palm Beach City Commission unanimously approved the establishment of the Okeechobee Business District (OBD) in August, after an almost two-yearlong process with a significant amount of participation from Palm Beach County, the town of Palm Beach and other key stakeholders. RELATED: Editorial: West Palm wrong to ignore traffic concerns with...
Letters: Trump not to blame for Puerto Rico’s failures
Letters: Trump not to blame for Puerto Rico’s failures

Trump not to blame for island’s failures The rally this past weekend blaming President Donald Trump for not doing more for the people of Puerto Rico is just another example of finding someone to blame for their own situation. How about blaming the Puerto Rican politicians who were told many years ago their electrical grid was outdated but did...
More Stories