Study: ACI addiction-treatment program linked to 61% fewer inmate overdose deaths

PROVIDENCE – A $2 million launch in 2016 of the nation’s first program screening all of a state’s inmates for opioid use disorder to provide access to medication-assisted treatment has been linked to a 61 percent drop in post-incarceration overdose deaths, according to a study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, a monthly medical journal published by the American Medical Association.

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo announced the findings of the study of inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions during a Feb. 14 meeting of the Rhode Island Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force.

The ACI program was part of a set of initiatives launched in 2016 designed to combat Rhode Island’s addiction and overdose epidemic. Other initiatives included new funding to support the creation of nine “Center of Excellence” treatment centers. Raimondo’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal continues funding for the programs.

“Our No. 1 goal in fighting the opioid-overdose crisis is simple: save lives,” Raimondo said. “But to do that, we have to use every tool in our toolbox. Our data told us that too many Rhode Islanders leave prison and overdose. So, we took action and created this program with the [R.I.] Department of Corrections. Now, we are beginning to see results. We still have a lot of work to do, but this study lets us know that we are starting to move in the right direction.”

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The administration of the Medicated Assisted Treatment program at RIDOC is a major piece of the treatment strategy in Raimondo’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Action Plan since incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people are one of the groups at the highest risk for overdose. People who use opioids build up a tolerance, which then diminishes during periods of incarceration when they are not using opioids. The other focuses of the action plan are prevention, rescue and recovery.

Dr. Jennifer Clarke, medical programs director at RIDOC, implemented the MAT program. She also co-authored the study.

“While comprehensive treatment for opiate use disorders has not been the traditional role of correctional facilities, we have shown that it is feasible,” said Clarke. “Providing treatment saves lives and helps people become productive members of society, [and] positively engages them with their communities and families, which makes for healthier and safer communities.”

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at