Fifteen years of heroin-assisted treatment in a Swiss prison – a retrospective cohort study [2020]

Background
In the context of the current US opioid crisis and the compelling fact that a quarter to a third of all those addicted to heroin pass through its prisons and jails each year, the care of incarcerated opioid-using individuals (OUI) needs to be improved.

Aims
Little has been published on the effectiveness or outcomes of heroin-assisted treatment (HAT), a treatment option for severely dependent OUI delivered in a prison setting. The aim of this study was therefore to evaluate such treatment since its implementation. The primary objective was to investigate whether heroin-assisted treatment was associated with severe detrimental health outcomes. The secondary objective was to compare the heroin-assisted treatment group with the general prison population in terms of occupational functioning.

Design
Retrospective cohort study

Setting
An open prison with 120 places

Subjects
Data on 1885 male prisoners with a total of 2239 imprisonment periods between 2000 and 2015 was available. Ninety-seven inmates in heroin-assisted treatment were compared with 1788 inmates from the general prison population (reference group).

Measurements
Mortality, medical complications (including overdoses), and work performance (days worked, sick days, and monthly wages earned).

Findings
Inmates receiving HAT were on average 1 year younger (33.8 vs. 34.9 years), had longer prison stays (7.3 vs. 3.0 months), were more often of Swiss nationality (68.0% vs. 28.9%), and had committed more drug- and property-related offenses (49.5% vs. 23.2% and 63.9% vs. 38.3%, respectively) compared to the reference group. No serious heroin-related medical complication occurred during the 15-year window of observation among inmates with heroin-assisted treatment. Their work performance was comparable to that of the reference group.

Conclusions
This study shows that heroin-assisted treatment can be a valuable treatment option for severely dependent OUI during imprisonment, can be delivered safely by prison health staff over extended periods of time, and allows OUI in treatment to achieve work performance rates comparable to that of the general prison population.

Michael Liebrenz, Alex Gamma, Anna Buadze, Roman Schleifer, Stéphanie Baggio, Bruce Schwartz, Andres Schneeberger & Ambros Uchtenhagen
Harm Reduction Journal, volume 17, Article number: 67 (2020)
DOI
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