Gardner: U.S. incarcerated population needs better access to drug treatments

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) this week highlighted the results of a newly issued report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealing shortfalls in the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) drug treatment programs.

The GAO report also makes recommendations for ways BOP can better manage and expand drug treatment programs offered to incarcerated individuals.

“This report shows that while we are taking the right steps, much more must be done to increase access to treatment for incarcerated people,” Sen. Gardner said on June 2.

Sen. Gardner and several colleagues in May 2018 requested the GAO report due to the large share of the nation’s prison population whose lives have been affected by drugs and asked GAO to review BOP’s efforts to provide drug treatment to federal inmates.

“Addiction to dangerous substances like opioids has ruined too many lives and devastated too many communities in Colorado,” said Sen. Gardner. “Access to treatment can be particularly difficult for incarcerated individuals, which then plays a role in both health and future cycles of incarceration.”

In fiscal year 2019, the BOP started treating inmates with opioid use disorder via a new medication-assisted treatment program (MAT), which the bureau is expanding, but hasn’t yet documented how it will gauge the additional agency personnel needed, how it plans to recruit and onboard them, or when the expansion will be completed, according to the report.

In its report, the GAO describes BOP’s drug education and treatment programs and funding for them from fiscal years 2015 through 2019; examines BOP’s plans for expanding the MAT program; and examines BOP’s plans for evaluating and managing these programs.

The GAO makes seven recommendations to BOP, including to develop key planning elements for expanding its MAT program and to develop and implement a plan that agency leadership can use to manage its portfolio of drug treatment programs.