Suboxone Spreads to More Prison Systems, Little Evidence of Counseling
Following up on some recent warnings and reports from comrades on Subxone(buprenorphine), we conducted an updated survey on drugs in U.$. prisons this past winter.(1) We received survey responses from NC, PA, VA, WV, MI, CA and TX.(2) While we heard from Michigan in ULK 75 all of the other states were represented in our original survey, which was distributed more widely and received more responses.
So has anything changed in the last 5 years? In 2017, Suboxone use was reported to be common in many states in the northeast and midwest United $tates. Specifically comrades in NY, KS, WV, TN, CT, WI, and especially PA reported Suboxone use being popular. We do not have info on whether the Suboxone was obtained from the prison or not in that data set. In 2022, we can add California, Virginia, North Carolina and Michigan to the list of states where Suboxone is abused in prisons. Of those four, only Michigan was not represented in our 2017 survey, meaning Suboxone seems to have become popular in the other 3 in the last five years. Texas is the only state we got responses from this year that reported Suboxone still not being available at all.[UPDATE October 2022: We later received report that Georgia did not have Suboxone either.]
Our comrade in Michigan reported this new drug appeared on the scene in 2012, and had become the most common drug abused in the MDOC, with perhaps 5 in 10 prisoners using it. (until recently when K2 took over)
We have updated info from Pennsylvania affirming that it is prescribed there and that people can stay on it for as long as they are held in prison. About 1 in 7 people are using Suboxone at SCI-Dallas.
In North Carolina, Suboxone is very popular, though less popular than K2, which has been increasing in use. Suboxone may be more popular with white prisoners there.
Our Virginia respondent is in a “big mental health/drug rehab” unit, where ey says “we can’t order self-help programs nor books.” Imagine that! Yet you can get a Suboxone subscription with no indication that there are any classes to go along with it. Some are continuing their Suboxone subs from the streets.
Michigan and West Virginia do not prescribe Suboxone according to our survey respondents. Yet it still gets into the prisons there and is quite popular.
California the big mover
The biggest shift we learned from our second round of surveys was the new introduction of Suboxone, which Ehecatl already reported in ULK 76 started in 2020. A recent study reported a sharp increase in buprenorphine consumption in prisons from 2020-2021. The number of incarcerated people consuming it rose an estimated 250,000 from January 2015 to May 2021. With only 115,000 prisoners total, CDCR may have been a good chunk of that growth, but clearly was only part of it.
That said, one comrade in California reported that they now “give anyone and everyone Suboxone. I know a bunch of people who never have used drugs and went to see the doctor and got put on Suboxone.” The price of Suboxone on the black market has decrease from $100 to only $2-4 as a result. This comrade continued,
“I’ve been in solitary confinement for over 4 years so I signed up to get put on Suboxone and I got put on it a week after seeing the doctor. I’ve been a drug addict my whole life, but was still surprised how easy it is and was to get put on Subxone.”
We’ve always held that solitary confinement is used as a tool of social control in the U.$. injustice system. We also see Suboxone being used in the same way. Here they are being used in conjunction as a way to help people adjust to the torture of solitary confinement. When used outside solitary, most prisoners reported its use leading to people retreating from socializing and not engaging in any kind of group organizing.
Another CA comrade had put in a request in December 2019 after the CDCR publicized a new drug to help with addiction. By March or April 2020 ey was approved for Suboxone. Doses there range from 8mg to 20mg. As for counseling, this comrade did report that, “while I was receiving it we were seeing a C.O. Healy and ex-drug user facilitator bringing us 5 days of work on Monday and coming back on Monday to pick up the homework.” It is not clear why ey stopped receiving Suboxone.
“Buprenorphine use in jails and prisons increased by 224-fold, from a daily mean of 44 individuals in June 2016 to 9841 individuals in May 2021 (Figure). Most of this increase occurred from 2020 to 2021. Nationwide, across all retail and nonretail settings, buprenorphine use increased by 53.9% from a daily mean of 466,781 individuals in January 2015 to 718,591 individuals in May 2021. By May 2021, correctional settings accounted for approximately 1.5% of all buprenorphine use nationwide. An estimated 3.6% of the 270,000 incarcerated individuals with [Opioid Use Disorder] in the US received buprenorphine.”(3)
These numbers are likely underestimated as they are based on retail sales numbers from one source. But the sharp increase in prescribed Suboxone starting in late 2019 is certainly something of note.
K2 Still King in TX
We received the most responses to our second survey from Texas, and things seem to have not changed much there. Everyone agreed that Suboxone was not available in Texas. K2 appeared there around 2013 or 2014 according to our respondents, and has been on the increase ever since. Many people report tiers filled with the smoke being a common occurrence in the TDCJ. K2 use rates reported in TX this time around estimated 10%, 20%, 30% and in the RHU up to 75% of people.
Our correspondent from Allred’s RHU reports that back in 2013-2016 “drugs were virtually non-existent… 1/2 that time there were no cameras, yet there still was no drugs, no cell phones, no contraband at all really. Since i’ve been back here there has been at least a 70% increase in contraband” (2017 to present). This comrade points to a huge cultural shift among staff leading to the change.
Ey goes on to explain the social effects of this influx of drugs and how it serves as a tool of social control:
“We had a good thing going here after working to bring all New Afrikan lumpen groups and people together, but clashes over drug debts have undermined the unity… We were able to organize 1/3 of the RHU population against their confinement. With the drugs one year later, barely 50 people!”
As far as effective efforts to combat drugs, we once again got a resounding “no” answer to that question form all states. One TX comrade reported, “the Christians and Muslims are the only social groups openly condemning drug use, simultaneously, some of their”coordinators" are getting officially charged with possessing it!"
Another comrade who struggled with prescription psych meds as well as illicit drugs explained, “One of the worst parts of my own ‘addiction’ was the shame and guilt that came from using these ‘illegal drugs.’” This is just one reason why the approach to drug addiction in this country is ineffective. We encourage comrades to try our new Revolutionary 12 Step Program, which will walk you through addressing these feelings of shame.
A couple of respondents reiterated a preference for “natural” drugs rather than ones that are synthesized by multi-national corporations. But we’d point out the reason we can’t trust modern technology is because of capitalism. It is not the fact that humyns made it that makes it unsafe, but rather the profit motives that cause humyns to hide and overlook any safety issues that come up. There are lots of things that grow naturally that can kill you. In a system that operates in the interests of the people, we wouldn’t be making things to add to that list like the capitalists do.
1. [see the results of our first survey on drugs in prison in Under Lock & Key 59]
2. The response size for this survey was much smaller and only included the following number of responses by state: NC-1, PA-1, VA-1, WV-1, MI-1, CA-2, TX-5
3. Ashish P. Thakrar, MD1; G. Caleb Alexander, MD, MS; Brendan Saloner, PhD; Trends in Buprenorphine Use in US Jails and Prisons From 2016 to 2021. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(12):e2138807. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.38807.