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MAT in Criminal Justice Systems

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Description of Strategy

MAT, or medication-assisted treatment, is the use of FDA-approved medications (such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone) to treat opioid use disorders. When combined with some form of counseling, it is an effective method for treating, or preventing, the abuse and misuse of both prescription and illicit opioids.

There are a number of people within the criminal justice system that could benefit from the use MAT to limit opioid use disorder. In fact, recent findings from the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimate that 63% of incarcerated people have a substance abuse disorder, with a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine stating that only 5% of people with OUD in prison receive MAT treatment (Bronson et al., 2017; NASEM, 2019).

MAT is poorly utilized in the treatment of opioid-dependent, criminal justice populations (Nunn et al., 2009). This is despite evidence that MAT reduces criminal behavior related to drug use, (Belenko et al., 2013).  As opioid-involved criminal justice populations return to the community, evidence-based programs like MAT can reduce the costs associated with recidivism, and the risk of overdose upon reentry (Kinlock et al., 2008).

In Wyoming

Wyoming does not provide MAT in its correctional facilities at this point in time.


Discussion of Effectiveness

At-risk populations that have access to MAT are less likely to misuse opioids (Friedman et al., 2012). For example, by including MAT within the criminal justice system, there is likely to be an increase in retention in treatment programs, and a reduced strain on resources allocated for the criminal justice system (Schwartz et al., 2009; Chandler et al., 2009). Those who participate in methadone treatment and counseling within the criminal justice system are less likely to test positive for illicit opioids one month following their release (Kinlock et al., 2007).


Belenko, S., Hiller, M., & Hamilton, L. (2013). Treating substance use disorders in the criminal justice system. Current Psychiatry Report, 15(414), 1–11.

Bronson, J., Stroop, J., Zimmer, S., & Berzofsky M. (2017). Drug use, dependence, and abuse among state prisoners and jail inmates, 2007–2009. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

Chandler, R., Fletcher, B., & Volkow, N. (2009). Treating drug abuse and addiction in the criminal justice system: Improving public health and safety. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 301(2), 183–190.

Friedmann, P., Hoskinson, R., Gordon, M., Schwartz, R., Kinlock, T., Knight, K., Flynn, P. M., Welsh, W. N., Stein, L. A. R., Sacks, S., O’Connell, D. J., Knudsen, H. K., Shafer, M. S., Hall, E., & Frisman, L. K (2012). Medication-assisted treatment in criminal justice agencies affiliated with the Criminal Justice-Drug Abuse Treatment Studies (CJ-DATS): Availability, barriers, and intentions. Substance Abuse, 33(1), 9–18.

Kinlock T. W., Gordon M. S., Schwartz R. P., O’Grady K., Fitzgerald T. T., Wilson M. (2007). A randomized clinical trial of methadone maintenance for prisoners: Results at 1-month post-release. Drug Alcohol Depend, 91(2-3), 220–227.

Kinlock, T. W., Gordon, M. S., Schwartz, R. P., & O’Grady, K. E. (2008.) A study of methadone maintenance for male prisoners: 3-month postrelease outcomes. Criminal Justice Behavior, 35(1), 34–47.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Save Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Nunn, A., Zaller, N., Dickman, S., Trimbur, C., Nijhawan, A., & Rich, J. D., (2009). Methadone and buprenorphine prescribing and referral practices in US prison systems: Results from a nationwide survey. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 105(1-2), 83–88.

Schwartz, R. P., Jaffe, J. H., O’Grady, K., Das, B., Highfield, D. A., & Wilson, M. E. (2009). Scaling-up interim methadone maintenance: Treatment for one thousand heroin-addicted individuals. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 37(4), 362 – 367.

Further Reading

Wyoming Department of Health Information on MAT

Evidence Base

Cochrane Review, Community Guide, NREPPHarvey Ball icon indicating evidence strength
Effectiveness Learn More


Strength of Evidence Learn More

Cochrane Review; NREPP