|NIDA Survey Shows Lack of Substance Abuse Treatment
Options for Offenders
Fewer than 10% of Drug-Abusing Offenders Get the
Treatment They Need
Substance abuse treatment services for offenders are not widely
available in all phases of the correctional system, according to
the first set of findings from a national survey funded by the
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes
of Health (NIH). The National Criminal Justice Treatment Practices
Survey (NCJTPS) provides a picture of existing treatment programs
across all correctional settings, including prison, jails, probation
and parole offices, and local community correction agencies for
juvenile and adult offenders. The survey findings, published in
a special issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment,
question the capability of the adult and/or juvenile correctional
system to effectively address drug abuse and associated criminal
behavior among offenders.
The offender population is at greater risk than the general population
to have a substance abuse disorder, and it is widely shown that
such disorders influence criminal behaviors. As a result, substance
abuse treatment for offenders has been part of the national strategy
to not only reduce the demand for drugs, but also reduce drug-related
crime for over 10 years. However, the survey found that of the
nearly eight million adults and 700,000 juveniles involved in the
justice system, access to treatment services is minimal with less
than 10 percent of offenders receiving the treatment that they
“The survey shows that far too few programs and services exist,
and the ones that do exist are only offered to a handful of offenders,” said
NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “Since offenders are four times
as likely as the general population to have a substance abuse disorder,
treating the offender population could measurably lower the demand
for drugs in our society, and reduce the crime rate.”
Studies show that treatment cuts drug abuse in half, drastically
decreases criminal activity, and significantly reduces arrests.
It is estimated that for every dollar spent on addiction treatment
programs, there is a $4 to $7 reduction in the cost of drug-related
The NCJTP survey illustrates multiple systemic, organizational,
and infrastructural barriers to the successful evidence-based addiction
treatment approaches described in NIDA’s Principles of Drug
Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations: A Research Based
Guide (NIDA, 2006).
“This survey can be used to assist policy makers and program officials
in plotting a course to implement more effective services and delivery
systems for the offender population,” said study director Dr. Faye
Taxman of Virginia Commonwealth University. She noted that the
papers in the series will help integrate research into practice
for the goal of reducing recidivism among substance abusing offenders.
Such strategies include:
- Integrate NIDA’s recommended strategies to convert existing
education-based substance abuse programs into more clinically
- Use screening and assessment tools to link offenders to appropriate
programs and services.
- Hire staff or provide training in motivational techniques for
- Emphasize training of existing staff to increase capacity for
working with offenders who have substance abuse issues in all
criminal justice settings.
- Build more community-based programs with approaches that build
on the same treatment philosophy found in correctional settings,
to enable a seamless transition from prison to the community.
”The results from the National Survey can provide needed data
for agencies to begin to plot the course for using existing services
and converting them to programs and services that are designed
to address risk of recidivism among offenders,” added Taxman. “It
is clear that correctional agencies see that they need to increase
their efforts to change offender behavior, attention to the NIDA-funded
research should help in this endeavor."
This is the first set of papers from the NCJTP. Other papers will
address topics such as organizational issues impacting the implementation
of substance abuse programs, and should provide further insight
into advancing a national strategy.
The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment (JSAT) features
original reviews, training and educational articles, special commentary,
and especially research articles that are meaningful to the treatment
of alcohol, heroin, marijuana, and other drugs of dependence. JSAT
is directed toward treatment practitioners from all disciplines
(medicine, nursing, social work, psychology, and counseling) in
both private and public sectors, including those involved in schools,
health centers, community agencies, correctional facilities, and
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National
Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects
of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large
variety of programs to ensure the rapid dissemination of research
information and its implementation in policy and practice. Fact
sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and information
on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA
home page at www.drugabuse.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.