Retention in Opioid Agonist Treatment after Prison Release Reduces Re-incarceration

Opioid agonist treatment (OAT) in prison and after release might influence the risk of re-incarceration. This prospective cohort study linked data on OAT and incarceration among 375 men with heroin use originally recruited in 1996–1997 for a randomized controlled trial of OAT in prison in New South Wales, Australia. Participants were followed through 2006.

  • During 9+ years of observation, 331 participants engaged in OAT 1081 times, with a median of 2 episodes per participant (mean length of engagement, 156 days); 58% started OAT in prison.
  • Ninety percent of participants were re-incarcerated after the first incarceration.
  • Engagement in OAT at the time of release had no effect on re-incarceration.
  • Post-release retention in OAT was associated with a one-fifth reduction in the number of re-incarcerations.

Comments: This study affirms that retention in OAT following release is associated with reduced re-incarceration among former prisoners with opioid dependence. Although other investigations have shown that initiating OAT prior to release maximizes post-release treatment retention, the current study suggests active linkage to ongoing treatment is an essential component. Continuing or initiating OAT during incarceration is necessary but not sufficient to optimize post-release outcomes among opioid-dependent inmates; correctional systems and treatment providers must also provide transitional assistance to ensure that former inmates reach OAT programs after release.

Published In: Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Health: Current Evidence a project of the Boston Medical Center issue January/February 2012. Access checked 3/12/12. Peter D. Friedmann, MD, MPH

Original Source: Larney S, Toson B, Burns L, et al. Effect of prison-based opioid substitution treatment and post-release retention in treatment on risk of reincarceration. Addiction. 2012;107 (2):372–380.