Implementation of opioid maintenance treatment in prisons in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany - a top down approach

Böhmer, Kathrin; Schecke, Henrike GND; Render, Irmgard; Scherbaum, Norbert GND

Background: Opioid Maintenance Treatment (OMT) is a well-evaluated treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD). Especially, under the condition of imprisonment, OMT is a preventive measure regarding infectious diseases such as hepatitis C. However, only a minority of prisoners with OUD are currently in OMT in numerous countries. In 2009, the Ministry of Justice of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany, launched the process of implementing OMT in prisons with various elements (e.g. development of recommendations regarding the treatment of prisoners with OUD, monitoring the number of prisoners in OMT, education of prison doctors). In the recommendations OMT was defined as the gold standard of treatment of OUD.

Methods: To assess the effectiveness of the implementation strategy a survey on the prevalence of OMT in prisons in NRW was carried out twice a year by the Ministry of Justice between 2008 and 2016. Participants were prisoners in NRW, Germany. The diagnosis of OUD at admission to prison and the treatment state on survey dates was measured.

Results: The number of prisoners in NRW dropped from 17,301 in 2008 to 16,432 in 2016. In the same period, the number of prisoners with OUD (mainly males) dropped from 4201 persons to 3650 persons and the number of prisoners in OMT increased from 139 persons (3.3%) to 1415 (38.7%) persons.

Discussion: Currently, the percentage of prisoners with OUD in OMT in NRW is almost reaching the treatment rate outside prisons in Germany (45-50%). However, after release from prison there is still a high risk for a discontinuation of OMT.

Conclusions: Overall, the top-down approach of implementing OMT in prisons in the federal state of NRW was effective.


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Böhmer, K., Schecke, H., Render, I., Scherbaum, N., 2020. Implementation of opioid maintenance treatment in prisons in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany - a top down approach.
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