BACKGROUND: Individuals involved in the criminal legal system face unique challenges to accessing substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, yet state-level variation in referrals for treatment remains largely unknown. To address disparities in the overdose crisis among individuals with criminal legal involvement, it is important to understand variation in SUD treatment across states.
METHODS: We conducted a retrospective comparison of substance use treatment referrals from the criminal legal system and other sources across participating states. Using data from the 2018–2019 Treatment Episode Dataset-Admissions, we characterized treatment referral rates from the criminal legal system, the substances most commonly leading to treatment, and rates of treatment with medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) across states.
RESULTS: Across all states, criminal legal referral rates were higher than non-criminal legal rates. Criminal-legal referral rates, adjusted for state overdose deaths, were highest in the Northeast and Midwest. Methamphetamine use was the most common substance leading to treatment referral from the criminal legal system in 24 states while opioid use was the most common reason for non-criminal legal referrals in 34 states. In over half the states analyzed, fewer than 10% of opioid treatment referrals from the criminal legal system received MOUD. In almost all states, MOUD was more common in treatment referred from non-criminal legal settings.
CONCLUSION: State-specific policies and practices shape drug policy and the SUD treatment landscape for people with criminal legal involvement. Standards and ongoing monitoring for substance use treatment referrals from the criminal-legal system should be considered by federal agencies charged with addressing the ongoing overdose crisis.
State level variation in substance use treatment admissions among criminal legal-referred individuals
Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 240, 109651. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109651.