Early Effects of COVID-19 on Programs Providing Medications for Opioid Use Disorder in Jails and Prisons

J Addict Med. 2020 Sep/Oct;14(5):e257-e260. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000718.


Objectives: To describe how the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected opioid agonist treatment (OAT) programs in jails and prisons.

Methods: In May 2020, we conducted an online survey of 19 carceral systems that provided methadone and/or buprenorphine treatment for incarcerated populations before COVID-19. Eleven survey items examined challenges and changes to these programs as a result of the pandemic. Sixteen of 19 programs (84%) responded to the survey.

Results: Ten out of 16 systems reported downsizing their OAT programs. Seven of 16 systems made changes to medication dispensation processes. Half of systems report challenges implementing physical distancing (n = 8), and/or obtaining personal protective equipment (n = 8). In 13 out of 16 systems some OAT program participants were released early due to COVID-19 infection risk.

Conclusions: Jails and prisons with existing OAT programs have curtailed their operations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the robust evidence base around OAT for treating opioid use disorder and averting overdose deaths, guidance is needed on maintaining and ramping up medication access as carceral facilities grapple with implementing COVID-19 mitigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Pandemics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / epidemiology
  • Prisons*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid