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To Combat Soaring Overdose Rates in Pennsylvania, New Initiative Pushes for Lifesaving Medications to People in Jails

May 5, 2021 (PHILADELPHIA, PA) – As overdose deaths soar in Pennsylvania and the national epidemic reaches historic heights, the Vital Strategies Overdose Prevention Program and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project launched a new initiative to increase access to lifesaving medication for people with opioid use disorder in jails across the Commonwealth. The effort will be powered by a new statewide advocacy network of lawyers, advocates, currently and formerly incarcerated people, their loved ones, and other stakeholders. 

“People who have been incarcerated are up to 129 times more likely than the general public to die from overdose in the weeks following release from incarceration,” said Kate Boulton, Senior Legal Technical Advisor at Vital Strategies. “Medications like buprenorphine and methadone are the gold standard of care for opioid use disorder and dramatically reduce risk of fatal overdose, yet remain unavailable in the majority of correctional settings. We are proud to partner with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project as one of several strategies to ensure that lifesaving medications like methadone and buprenorphine get to people in correctional settings who need them.” 

Under the partnership, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project will offer legal support and advice to incarcerated individuals seeking medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), launch and help lead a MOUD in jail statewide advocacy network, and conduct research to accurately characterize the provision of MOUD in Pennsylvania county jails.  With climbing rates of overdose among Black Pennsylvanians during COVID and racial disparities in arrest and incarceration, the new initiative will help address the disproportionate impact of the overdose crisis on Black people and other communities of color in Pennsylvania.

“Lack of access to evidence-based medications such as buprenorphine and methadone causes ‘forced withdrawal’ in opioid dependent individuals.  This poses profound physical and mental suffering, an increased risk of suicide in those with mental illness, and can have serious consequences for pregnant individuals,” said Adrienne Abner, PILP attorney working on the project. “Denying this medication not only poses a serious health risk, but also threatens fundamental human rights protections against cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of incarcerated people.”

Increasing access to MOUD is an important strategy of harm reduction, the evidence-driven public health approach to addressing substance use and the overdose epidemic. The partnership builds upon Vital Strategies’ broader effort of promoting MOUD in Pennsylvania jails and prisons. For example, over the course of 2020, the organization supported robust technical assistance for seven county jails funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) to launch or expand access to opioid agonist medication. In the same year, Vital Strategies partnered with the National Council for Behavioral Health to release a landmark planning and implementation toolkit on MOUD in jails and prisons.

Those interested in learning more or in joining the statewide advocacy network can visit:  The Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project will convene a statewide MOUD advocacy roundtable in Summer 2021. 


About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. The organization works with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Vital Strategies’ goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. For more information visit

About Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program 

In November 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million investment to address the country’s overdose crisis. The initiative—a first-of-its-kind partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, CDC Foundation, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—is helping up to 10 states implement solutions over three years to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven interventions to reduce risks of overdose and save lives.

About the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project 

The Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project’s (PILP) mission seeks to advance the constitutional and civil rights for people incarcerated and detained in Pennsylvania through providing free civil legal advice, information, advocacy, and representation.  For more information, visit

Tony Newman 646-335-5384
Ben Bowens 267-921-0194