The Vermont House gave unanimous approval Thursday to a bill that would make medication for opioid addiction available to all inmates who need it.
Inmates are currently taken off their buprenorphine or methadone after 120 days. The bill, which cleared the Senate last month, would eliminate the time limit. And it would allow inmates to get a prescription while in prison, instead of limiting treatment to those who had one before they were incarcerated.
“This is a really important step for us … in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” said Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington), who pushed for the change.
Rep. George Till (D-Jericho), a doctor, said the bill underscores the fact that addiction is a disease.
Last November, Seven Dayswrote about inmates who were being taken off their addiction medication and forced to endure excruciating withdrawal. Some of those inmates sought street drugs when they were released, and they overdosed.
A week after the story was published, the Department of Corrections announced that it would expand treatment, previously limited to 30 days in most prisons, to 120 days.
The bill would require doctors who decide to terminate an inmate’s medication to give that patient a written and verbal explanation. Former inmates told Seven Days they had been taken off their medication with no explanation.
The changes would cost roughly $800,000, an investment that both House and Senate budget committees have committed to making. The House is expected to give the bill final approval tomorrow.