Drug Therapy

Drug therapy refers to treatment options using pharmacological substances. There is a wide range of pharmacological substances used to treat diseases and other health conditions. Because the prevalence of diseases and other health conditions tends to be higher among incarcerated offenders when compared with the general population, it is understandable that the need for drug therapy may be relatively high among inmates. However, the use of drug therapy among prison populations, although primarily to treat health conditions, can also facilitate surveillance and monitoring, as well as be a means of self- and social control. Drug therapy contributes to change in behavior based on social control, enhances effective inmate management, and facilitates improvement in the health status of offenders.

The extent of drug therapy in the criminal justice system is not clear. As of 2015, there were more than 2.2 million individuals incarcerated in the United States, and it is estimated that approximately 85% of offenders tend to have some level of drug or substance abuse problems or addiction. It has also been identified that the health status of offenders tends to be lower when compared with the general population. There are high levels of infectious diseases such as sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, hepatitis B, and tuberculosis. A large proportion of offenders are also being diagnosed with mental and psychological problems. In 2005, estimates suggest, 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of jail inmates had a mental illness. With more offenders having to serve long sentences because of mandatory sentencing requirements, the proportion of aging prisoners, who tend to have chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and hypertension, has increased tremendously. Although the exact extent of drug therapy cannot be accurately computed, the usage of drug therapy appears to be quite extensive.

Drug therapy is generally requested by medical personnel affiliated with the prison or jail facilities. However, inmates may be incarcerated who have already been on therapy or who may develop symptoms that warrant treatment. The multimodality approach, which has been shown to be quite effective in addressing inmates’ needs, includes drug therapy as well as provision of other services. The method of administration of drug therapy varies depending on the patient, the health condition, and the substance being prescribed. Drug therapy can be administered through a range of modalities, including intravenously, intramuscularly, orally, or topically.

Types of Drug Therapy


Drug therapy is an important strategy in inmate management based on the diverse health and other needs of offenders. Some inmates are physically ill, whereas others may have mental and psychological problems or substance addiction. Drug therapy is beneficial to treat existing or developing conditions experienced by inmates, as well as fulfill the human rights mandate of access to health services. The therapy can also be used to facilitate better relationships among inmates and improve inmate management. Drug therapy is also used to render offenders fit for trial as well as treat certain types of drug addiction.

In these ways, drug therapy provides tremendous benefits to the criminal justice system. It contributes to improving the health status of offenders, maintaining behavior and social control, and effective inmate management. Its use in multimodal programs facilitates surveillance and monitoring of inmates.

Fay V. Williams

See also Prisons and Jails ; Social Control ; Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities

Further Readings

Balbuena, Lloyd, et al. “Does Clozapine Promote Employability and Reduce Offending Among Mentally Disordered Offenders?” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, v.55/1 (2010).

Belenko, S. and J. Peugh. “Estimating Drug Treatment Needs Among State Prison Inmates.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, v.77/3 (2005).

Butler, Tony, et al. “Reducing Impulsivity in Repeat Violent Offenders: An Open Label Trial of a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, v.44 (2010).

Marvel, Francoise, et al. “Multidimensional Family Therapy HIV/STD Risk-Reduction Intervention: An Integrative Family-Based Model for Drug-Involved Juvenile Offenders.” Family Process, v.48/1 (2009).

Wild, T. C. “Social Control and Coercion in Addiction Treatment: Towards Evidence-Based Policy and Practice.” Addiction, v.101/1 (2006).

Wilper, Andrew P., et al. “The Health and Health Care of US Prisoners: Results of a Nationwide Survey.” American Journal of Public Health, v.99/4 (2009).