COPers work on project to reduce crime among drug dependent
As of 2008, two million adults were incarcerated in the United States, half of whom suffered from drug abuse or addiction. Because of this, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created the Criminal Justice Drug Abuse Treatment grant. One of the goals of the grant is to increase the use of medication to treat those who have been released from a correctional facility but still have a drug dependency.
Arizona State University’s College of Public Programs was awarded one of the 10 grants that the NIH funded around the country. Terry Urbine, assistant research scientist at the COP Phoenix campus, is the manager of the medicated treatment portion of the grant.
“This is a five-year project,” explains Urbine.
The behavior of incarcerated adults is closely monitored and controlled. But when they are released and still suffering from an addiction, they run a high risk of indulging that addiction and relapsing into criminal behavior.
“The underlying premise,” says Urbine, “is that there is a causal relationship between drug addiction and crime. If you treat the addiction, you will reform the person.”
To assist with the project, Urbine engaged UA College of Pharmacy professor Terri Warholak, who gave continuing education presentations to parole officers, judges and other people who were involved in the criminal justice system in Pima, Maricopa, and Pinal counties.
“A lot of people in the criminal justice system think medication treatment for addiction is a bad thing,” says Warholak. "Thus, we were trying to change their attitudes so they will be willing to refer people to the appropriate medication programs.”
The 1991 study, The Effectiveness of Methadone Maintenance Treatment (Ball and Ross), showed that methadone is not only effective in treating drug addiction, but it can help in the reduction of criminal behavior and incarceration rates.
“If someone is addicted to heroin,” she continues, “and you can get them on methadone, you can help them to be a productive member of society, keep them out of the criminal justice system, and help improve their family life.”
Included in the grant was the formation of a Pharmacotherapy Advisory Council that meets once a month. It included individuals from treatment agencies, nurses, physicians, parole officers, administrators, and court officials. But the group did not have a pharmacist. PharmD Class of 2013 students Sarah Norman and Erica Davis were added to the council.
The students took information from Warholak’s presentation and made reference sheets for each of the treatment medications for parole officers, explaining what the medications are, what they do, what the side effects are and at what point a pharmacist or physician should be contacted. They also made a drug interaction sheet. All the information the students provided the council was first approved by Warholak.
At the end of the project, Norman and Davis plan to write an informational article explaining to pharmacists across the country the nature of the project. Their article will highlight the fact that the local criminal justice system is an additional place pharmacists can get involved and help their community.
“It was a wonderful learning experience,” says Norman. “I was able to share the pharmacy perspective on opioid addiction and how a pharmacist can play a role in assisting patients with their recovery.”
By Larry Hogan Jr.