Legislatively mandated implementation of medications for opioid use disorders in jails: A qualitative study of clinical, correctional, and jail administrator perspectives

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2022 May 1:234:109394. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109394. Epub 2022 Mar 7.


Background: Individuals with legal involvement and opioid use disorders (OUD) are at an increased risk of overdose and premature death. Yet, few correctional systems provide all FDA approved medications for OUD (MOUD) to all qualifying incarcerated individuals. We report on the implementation of MOUD in seven Massachusetts' jails following a state legislative mandate to provide access to all FDA-approved MOUD and to connect with treatment upon release.

Methods/participants: Based on the Exploration, Preparation, Implementation, and Sustainment framework, 61 clinical, corrections, and senior jail administrators participated in semi-structured interviews and focus groups between December 2019 and January 2020. Qualitative analyses focused on external and internal contexts and bridging factors.

Findings: Participants detailed how the outer context (i.e., legislative mandate) drove acceptance of MOUD and assisted with continuity of care. Salient inner context factors included decision-making around administration of agonist medications, staff perceptions and training, and changes to infrastructure and daily routines. Leadership was critical in flattening standard hierarchies and advocating for flexibility. System-based characteristics of incarcerated individuals, specifically those who were pre-sentenced, presented challenges with treatment initiation. Inter- and intra-agency bridging factors reduced duplication of effort and led to quick, innovative solutions.

Conclusions: Implementation of MOUD in jails requires collaboration with and reliance on external agencies. Preparation for implementation should involve systematic reviews of available resources and connections. Implementation requires flexibility from institutional systems that are inherently rigid. Accordingly, leaders and policymakers must recognize the cultural shift inherent in such programs and allow for resources and education to assure program success.

Keywords: EPIS framework; Jails; Medication assisted treatment; Medications for opioid use disorder; Opioid use disorder; implementation science.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Buprenorphine* / therapeutic use
  • Drug Overdose* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Jails
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Qualitative Research


  • Buprenorphine