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Legislature passes bill allowing methadone and other medical assisted treatment programs in Utah prisons

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Legislature passes bill allowing methadone and other medical assisted treatment programs in Utah prisons

Feb 29, 2024 | 4:39 pm ET
By Kyle Dunphey
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Legislature passes bill allowing methadone and other medical assisted treatment programs in Utah prisons
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Senators work in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. (Photo by Spenser Heaps for Utah News Dispatch)

Inmates struggling with opioid addiction in either of Utah’s two prisons may soon have a reprieve after a bill allowing them to continue medical assisted treatment while incarcerated passed the Utah Senate and House Wednesday evening. 

SB212, sponsored by longtime recovery advocate and Salt Lake Democratic Sen. Jen Plumb, passed both the House and Senate with unanimous support. 

The bill will allow anyone receiving medical assisted treatment, whether in the county jail or in their community, to have access to a program if they are transferred to prison. Medical assisted treatment usually combines drugs like buprenorphine or methadone with counseling to help people with opioid dependency. 

If Gov. Spencer Cox signs the bill, the Utah Department of Corrections can work with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to allow medical personnel into the prison; the prison could also store its own medications for treatment. 

SB212 builds off a law passed by Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, last year that allowed jails to either work with private practitioners or create medical assisted treatment programs of their own. But if recipients of that treatment are transferred to prison, the treatment would stop, which can result in damaging withdrawal symptoms and severely impact mental health

Plumb told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee earlier this month that about 240 people currently incarcerated in Utah’s prisons would be eligible to receive medical assisted treatment. 

“Someone has a little slip-up like a parole violation, and they have to go back out to the prison for a period of time — being taken off of their medical assisted treatment to be back in that incarcerated space was pretty gut wrenching,” Plumb told the Senate committee. 

“When it’s working for someone, we should not take them off of it. That sudden discontinuation is dangerous,” she said.