Forced withdrawal from methadone maintenance therapy in criminal justice settings: a critical treatment barrier in the United States

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2013 May-Jun;44(5):502-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2012.10.005. Epub 2013 Feb 22.


The World Health Organization classifies methadone as an essential medicine, yet methadone maintenance therapy remains widely unavailable in criminal justice settings throughout the United States. Methadone maintenance therapy is often terminated at the time of incarceration, with inmates forced to withdraw from this evidence-based therapy. We assessed whether these forced withdrawal policies deter opioid-dependent individuals in the community from engaging methadone maintenance therapy in two states that routinely force inmates to withdraw from methadone (N = 205). Nearly half of all participants reported that concern regarding forced methadone withdrawal during incarceration deterred them engaging methadone maintenance therapy in the community. Participants in the state where more severe methadone withdrawal procedures are used during incarceration were more likely to report concern regarding forced withdrawal as a treatment deterrent. Methadone withdrawal policies in the criminal justice system may be a broader treatment deterrent for opioid-dependent individuals than previously realized. Redressing this treatment barrier is both a health and human rights imperative.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Criminal Law*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methadone / administration & dosage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / methods*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology
  • Prisoners
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Methadone