Commentary: Is the MAT Program Achieving Its Goal in the California Prison System?

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By Ruby Escamilla

On a daily basis I witness the Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) program operate within the prison walls. In every pill line dozens of inmates wait to get their treatment of Suboxone, a drug designed to decrease the severity of opioid withdraws. In theory this is great! The state is helping offenders get sober. In practice (reality) the program, in my opinion, is failing. The MAT program in California prisons is creating, enabling, and releasing active addicts/criminals.

The first half of the problem is the creating and enabling of addicts. Anyone who knows anything about addiction knows the powerlessness, impulsivity, lack of self-control, and recklessness that we as addicts operate with when active in our addiction. So is it smart of the state to prescribe Suboxone to an individual who is in this state of mind? Suboxone does get people high and is highly addictive. As part of my research I interviewed inmates on the program that confirmed all of my suspicions. For starters one man has been on Suboxone for 3 YEARS! This is a drug designed for withdraw! Most heroin addicts experience withdraw for about 1 week and to add insult to injury, this man said he does not quit because the WITHDRAWS ARE WORSE THAN HEROIN. I have personally watched inmates smuggle their prescription back to their buildings. I hear the boasting of snorting, shooting, and smoking the treatment. In my interview, the inmate said to INCREASE his dosages all he has to say is he is having urges. I told him how hard it was to get prescribed Suboxone and he said all I had to do was say I WAS HAVING CRAVINGS! Its literally that easy. There is no oversite for these inmates and no realistic and achievable goal to reach sobriety. All the MAT program is doing at this rate is reinforcing the addictive thoughts and patterns of behavior. At the expense of the state and taxpayers.

The second half of the problem is criminality and its threat to public safety. Again I have witnessed the smuggling of the treatment by inmates. This problem is well known, and has a larger impact on life than the act in and of itself. What happens when they do get it back to the building? It’s being distributed to other inmates for financial gain, and/or being taken in the ways I mentioned above. These actions are reinforcing the pattern of criminal thinking and behavior that led to incarceration in the first place. It’s manipulation of the system, breaking the law, indifference toward others, selfish, reckless, and damaging to the community in prison. One person getting 4 others high off Suboxone is increasing the size and magnitude of the ripple effects. That’s now 4 people continuing to victimize others. In my personal experience when I was in my addiction it didn’t stop at getting high. I lied, cheated, stole, and hurt whomever I needed to fulfill my craving. This is what is being fostered behind these walls. It is not 1 person, it’s HUNDREDS. Which is likely to create thousands of victims. Sadly, inmates on the program receive a 30-day supply and 2 Narcan canisters upon release with no required transitional program or special oversight. The likelihood of recidivism has to sky rocket right? The threat to public safety increases right?  How is this okay?

This is not the environment for the MAT program. The C.O’s don’t like it, the nurse don’t like it, and inmates working to become better people hate it. I fear getting a bunkie on Suboxone because I have changed my life. That man has been on Suboxone FOR 3 YEARS! A drug designed for withdraw. All it is doing at this point is keeping him stuck in a vicious cycle that unfortunately will cause harm to others. Is this the goal of the MAT program? Is it serving its purpose? Is it effectively helping inmates reach sobriety? Do they even care? Seems like it may be doing more harm than good…at the taxpayers’ expense.

Ruby Escamilla is incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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