The Role of Drugs in Incarcerations

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – What’s to blame for the rise of incarceration? Answers vary, but The Sentencing Project says drug use accounts for some of it.

Addiction treatment behind bars varies, too, from facility to facility in Kentucky. There are still jails and prisons without the medically-assisted forms of treatment for users.

There are 12 substance abuse programs in nine prisons, according to the DOC. Medicine for withdrawal and to reduce cravings is available at all 12 prisons, in the form of Vivitrol. However, other medications doctors recommend for treatment, Methadone, and Buprenorphine, are only given to pregnant women.

“National numbers indicate that 70% of that population is in need of some form of drug treatment. So, can we provide that level of treatment? We simply can’t do it. The taxpayer could not afford that. So we try to prioritize. We try to find those most in need,” Secretary Tilley says.

Even more, jails lack treatment. Of the 76 jails, 21 have Vivitrol, one has Buprenorphine, and none have Methadone.

 On the University of Louisville’s campus, Timara Tyree studies to become a social worker.  She draws on her real-life experience to work her day job and reflects on the time she spent behind bars, as she helps inmates recover from addiction.

“Trying to even see a doctor in jail is pretty hard,” Tyree says. “A lot of the [corrections officers], I understand their job is pretty tough you know they do deal with some of the worst of the worst [people], but it has hardened them some.”

Tyree was formerly an inmate herself, who spent more than a year across several jails in Kentucky, on drug charges. She thanks a substance abuse program in the Hardin County Detention Center for her sobriety and rehabilitation. That’s why she’s advocating for all types of treatments to be made available to inmates.

Speaking generally from her own experience, she says: “what they do with someone detoxing is,

“and they leave the lights on 24 hours a day.” So, Tyree wants better.

“I think that treatment needs to be offered at every facility that holds any kind of state inmates. I mean, if we want to truly rehabilitate people, and set them up for success re-entering society, why would we not give them the tools and resources they need to do that?”

DOC addiction services staff say jails should be the frontlines for treatment behind bars in Kentucky.  

“One would like to think that by the time they reach an institution, they have detox,” says Sarah Johnson. “Now, we’re not naive enough to think that there’s not contraband on the yards and people don’t use on the yards. But I would say that the need is larger at our jails.”