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Bottles of prescription narcotics spill onto a table, implying easy access.
Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

One glaringly ugly fact our nation must acknowledge is that the opioid epidemic is not over. Opioids continue to destroy American lives one addict at a time. 

In 2020, some 68,630 Americans died of opioid-involved overdoses — more than triple the number of such deaths 10 years earlier, according to the National Institutes of Health

Not surprisingly, members of our nation’s incarcerated population are among those likely to have some form of drug dependency disorder, especially because narcotics are easily obtainable in jails and prisons. Having served more than 14 years behind Michigan’s razor-wire fences, I can assure you that narcotics, and especially opiates, are plentiful throughout nearly every one of Michigan’s 30 correctional facilities.

In 2019, Michigan began offering medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to a limited number of individuals, joining Rhode Island, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington and others. 

The MAT program is a treatment approach that combines prescribed medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and recovery support. It was implemented at several of Michigan’s 30 correctional facilities through a pilot program, but the number of prisoners who qualified for treatment has been limited. 

According to The Detroit News, the pilot program administered Vivitrol shots to 214 people before their release. The Michigan Department of Corrections had said that less than 1% of them returned to prison. 

But the number of people helped is a small percentage of the total number of incarcerated people with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), which the department estimates to be 20% of the state’s incarcerated population. As of Dec. 31, 2019, the state had 38,053 people incarcerated, which means that there are roughly 7,700 people in the system who suffer from OUD. 

The department tripled its budget for MAT treatment in 2020 to $3 million, but it is still not enough. 

Applicants who have submitted requests at the Carson City Correctional Facility where I reside, have been told that admissions to the pilot programs prioritize those on the waiting list in order of the earliest projected release date. 

It feels like Michigan prison administrators and their medical staff are being indifferent to prisoners’ serious medical needs. 

We are starting to get some help. Late in 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Grand Traverse County jail officials over their denial of Suboxone, a medical treatment for OUD, to a person in their custody. 

Now I am asking for your help in getting those programs expanded statewide. Wouldn’t you want your son or daughter to have meaningful access to treatment in your home state?

If your answer is yes, please help advocate for those of us here in the Michigan penal system who long for treatment of our disorders by emailing or calling your legislative representatives and senators. 

(Additional reporting by PJP)

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Brandon Resch is a writer incarcerated in Michigan.