“Making sure people get the addiction treatment and job support they need before reentry is more than just good policy — it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do, in order to save lives, make our communities safer and stronger, and empower our economy and our nation.”
Washington, D.C. – White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Dr. Rahul Gupta and Senior Advisor to the President and White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Director Tom Perez published a joint op-ed in The Hill highlighting the critical importance of expanding access to treatment for substance use disorder in jails and prisons to help address the nation’s overdose epidemic and save lives.
Today, Dr. Gupta is joining members of the House Congressional Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus for a visit to the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office and Adult Detention Center to hear from law enforcement, health care providers, and incarcerated people about what works and what’s needed to ensure people receive the treatment and recovery support needed to save lives.
This effort is part of President Biden’s comprehensive approach to save lives and end the opioid crisis. During his first State of the Union address, the President announced beating the overdose epidemic as one of the four pillars of his Unity Agenda, focused on issues where all Americans can come together and make progress for the nation. The President has continued to make this issue a top priority, and over the past three years, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken concrete action to address substance use, protect public health and public safety, disrupt the production and global trafficking of synthetic opioids and other dangerous drugs, and save lives. Under President Biden’s leadership, the Administration has removed decades-long barriers to treatment, expanded access to lifesaving overdose reversal medication, enabled a record number of seizures of illicit drugs at our borders, and led the strengthening of global efforts to crack down on illicit drug production and trafficking. To further reduce the flow of these drugs across our borders, President Biden has worked closely with leaders of key partner nations, including his November agreement with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China to resume bilateral counternarcotics cooperation. To continue this critically important work, President Biden has also been calling on Congress for immediate action to help provide $1.55 billion to strengthen addiction treatment, overdose prevention measures, and recovery support services across the country, and more than $1.2 billion to crack down on drug trafficking to keep dangerous drugs like fentanyl out of our communities. As Dr. Gupta and Mr. Perez wrote, ensuring people in prisons and jails can access treatment and recovery supports will help the nation beat the opioid crisis.
By Dr. Rahul Gupta and Tom Perez
In the heart of New Jersey’s Camden County Jail, Warden Karen Taylor is pioneering a transformation that should be the norm in our correctional facilities. She’s ensuring that every new resident is screened for substance use, and when necessary, begins treatment immediately to put them on a path to recovery so they can succeed and thrive when they return home.
Dr. Gupta visited the jail and met a person in custody named Freddie, a 38-year-old man who had battled opioid addiction and found himself incarcerated multiple times over nearly two decades. But in 2021, everything changed for Freddie; the day he entered the Camden County Jail, he finally got the help he needed. Now, Freddie speaks of hope, family and a bright future. His story is a testament to the power of evidence-based drug policy to save lives and transform communities.
In Maryland’s Clarksville Correctional Facility, the U.S. Department of Labor’s American Job Center provides the job training and placement people need so they are prepared to rejoin their communities. This is an effort Tom first implemented when he served as a Montgomery County elected official and later scaled up nationwide as U.S. secretary of Labor.
These stories illustrate what’s not only possible but desperately needed across the nation to address people’s core needs.
Today, there are approximately 2 million individuals in federal, state, local, tribal or territorial correctional facilities, with up to 65 percent of them battling a substance use disorder. Only a small portion receive the treatment they need.
As a result, of the nearly 110,000 overdose deaths in 2021, up to 27,000 were people recently released from jail or prison. People who lack access to medication for opioid use disorder are 120 times more likely to succumb to an opioid overdose in the first few weeks after release. It’s a crisis we cannot ignore.
Imagine if every jail and prison across our great nation were equipped to provide medications for opioid addiction and provide people with the tools they need to succeed after reentry. Imagine the tens of thousands of lives that could be saved each year. Imagine a brighter future where people leaving the criminal justice system enter the workforce, contribute to our nation’s economy, and build stronger communities.
That’s the vision we’re working tirelessly to realize within the Biden-Harris administration, and it’s a vision state and county leaders can help bring to life.
We understand the hurdles that state and local correctional leaders face. Many want to offer medication for opioid use disorder, but concerns about cost have held them back. That’s why, as we expand access to treatment within all 122 federal Bureau of Prisons facilities, we’re also providing training, technical assistance, and financial support to help expand access at the state and local levels.
And our commitment doesn’t end there. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are helping states leverage Medicaid to treat addiction within correctional walls, bridging the gap for those who need help.
Medicaid coverage is a game-changer, offering a lifeline that ensures continuity of care upon release, giving people a fighting chance at a successful reentry into society. Sixteen states, both red and blue, have already seized this opportunity. Friday marks the first anniversary of the first approval. We urge the remaining 34 to do the same for the sake of saving lives and taxpayer dollars.
These goals are key parts of the Biden-Harris administration’s Alternatives, Rehabilitation, and Reentry Strategic Plan, to strengthen public safety by reducing unnecessary criminal justice system interactions so police officers can focus on fighting crime, supporting rehabilitation during incarceration, and facilitating successful reentry.
The plan builds upon President Biden’s Safer America Plan — his comprehensive strategy to prevent and combat gun crime and violence — and outlines more than 100 concrete policy actions to improve the criminal justice system and strengthen public safety, leveraging data, research and proven successful strategies from state and local governments across the country. Expanding access to treatment for substance use disorder is also a core objective of the administration’s National Drug Control Strategy, and supports the president’s commitment to beat the overdose epidemic as part of his Unity Agenda for the Nation.
Making sure people get the addiction treatment and job support they need before reentry is more than just good policy — it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do, in order to save lives, make our communities safer and stronger, and empower our economy and our nation. These measures have a proven track record of success across the country, and have been implemented by leaders from both sides of the aisle.
The opioid epidemic isn’t a matter of red states or blue states; it’s an issue that affects all of America. Leaders in states, counties and cities across the nation today have a real opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people like Freddie. By acting to allow treatment in prisons and jails, supporting recovery through job training and other essential services, and partnering with the business community to create workplaces that are ready to welcome those in recovery, we can usher in an era of drug policy that strengthens families and communities across the nation.
Working together, we will bring about lasting change that will save lives, heal our nation, and help end this crisis once and for all.