Prison Suicide and the Opioid Crisis

Being confined to a correctional facility is stressful for anyone, but can be particularly trying for those with mental health or addiction issues. When the two are combined, poor outcomes can be even more drastic. These individuals are in need of even more advanced treatment and attention.

The suicide rate among prisoners is four times greater than the rate among the American public. And while 65 percent of inmates are estimated to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, only about 11 percent receive proper treatment while incarcerated. As it related to opioids, untreated inmates are 12 times more likely to overdose upon release. These uncertainties and stressors can make inmates question what kind of life, if any, awaits them on the outside, leading to feelings of despondency. They are often sick and in a poor mental state, left with seemingly little recourse.

To address these potentially suicidal thought patterns, a combination of mental health counseling and medication to treat addiction can be used successfully to lessen feelings of hopelessness and depression. But it is a challenge to get this type of treatment to inmates, as correctional facilities are often operating on strict budgets, or do not see addiction as a medical problem, but rather simply a criminal one. A shift in thinking and resources will be needed to address drug addiction and suicidal thoughts in inmates.

Many people question whether opioid addicts should be placed into correctional settings at all, as opioid addiction is considered a medically-treatable disease. While jails and prisons do the best they can to alleviate and treat withdrawal according to installed protocols, sadly there are high-profile cases of detained addicts not receiving proper care, leading to suicide attempts.

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