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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UMass: Study Finds Treatment with Medication Reduces Arrests and Incarceration Among People with Opioid Use Disorder

When it comes to addressing the national opioid crisis, most of the research has focused on the physical health risks faced by people with opioid use disorder, such as overdose and infectious disease. New research led by University of Massachusetts-Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences Dr. Elizabeth Evans is examining the impact of treating opioid use disorder on the risk for arrest and incarceration, comparing the effects of two different medications approved for the condition.

Published in the journal Addiction, Dr. Evans’ research found that, over a period of five years, people with opioid use disorder taking either prescribed medication were less likely to be arrested and incarcerated than those with the disorder who were not taking the medication.

“We shifted the research focus to look at criminal justice outcomes and whether providing medication was related to the likelihood of arrest or incarceration over time,” says Dr. Evans.

The study suggests that ongoing treatment with medications for people with opioid use disorder has social benefits — fewer arrests, convictions and incarcerations, among other advantages. The findings warrant further study, Dr. Evans says, and imply that an emerging practice to provide these medications in jails and upon release would likely reduce recidivism and save lives.

“Historically, few criminal justice institutions have provided these medications during incarceration or in preparation for a return to the community, in part because there was a belief that these medications don’t reduce the risk of recidivism and might even increase it in some way,” Dr. Evans says. “It turns out this is a myth; now, there’s evidence that continued treatment with either buprenorphine or methadone is associated with a reduction in arrests relative to no treatment.”