CHICAGO — As early data indicates the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled the nation’s drug overdose death rates, physicians, residents, and medical students adopted policy during the first day of the Special Meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates strengthening the efforts to increase access to evidence-based medical treatment for justice-involved individuals.

Specifically, the policy expands and updates the AMA’s longstanding recommendations to require medication treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) as the standard of care for patients in jail and prison settings, including patients who are pregnant, postpartum, or parenting. The updated policy also reiterates the need for screening upon entry and post-incarceration treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.

“Access to medication treatment in correctional facilities is not only protected by the law, but it is essential for providing evidence-based care for our patients with a substance use disorder,” said AMA Board of Trustee member Willie Underwood III, M.D., M.S., M.P.H. “We call on all jails, prisons, drug diversion and community re-entry programs to save lives by ensuring access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment.”

The updated policy builds on AMA advocacy in the courts and state legislatures to increase access to evidence-based care for justice-involved individuals. The action taken by the House of Delegates also complements 2019 AMA Opioid Task Force recommendations (PDF) urging lawmakers to protect incarcerated patients’ access to evidence-based care for OUD.

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The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care.  The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.