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Suboxone Smuggling – A New Prison Problem

Home / Pat Olsen / Suboxone Smuggling – A New Prison Problem

Suboxone Smuggling – A New Prison Problem

exec in prison.jpgYou often hear that addiction  is an equal opportunity disease and truth be told, people from all walks of life end up in prison because of drugs, whether due to possession, dealing, or committing crimes to be able to buy them.

Here’s one statistic regarding the extent of the problem: A writer in the August issue of Perspectives, A Journal on Addiction Research and Public Policy (the journal’s website is, said “there are more than two million jail and prison inmates, “and “about 15% have histories of heroin dependence.”

But inmates with a history of crimes not related to drugs have substance abuse problems, too. So it’s not surprising so many of those incarcerated try to have drugs smuggled in to them. What is surprising is the current drug of choice is Suboxone, a legal, synthetic opiate used to efficiently detox addicts off other opiiates such as heroin and oxycodone, also used for pain management. suboxone pill.jpg  Addicts who can afford the high cost sometimes use suboxone or subutex — both medically known as buprenorphone — instead of methadone to prevent opiate usage.

According to a New York Times article, friends and families of inmates (I assume that’s who the smugglers are) crush Suboxone pills into a paste and spread it on children’s artwork, spread it under stamps on inmates’ mail for them to lick, or tuck it behind envelope seams. Smugglers have even included it under pictures in kids’ coloring books.  The New York Times article further reports that suboxone has become a coveted contraband because it can provide a sense of euphoria.

The Cumberland County jail has a new rule that every piece of mail must come in a white envelope — so officials can detect the orange tint of the suboxone strips when they hold the envelope up to the light.  At the Maine Correctional Center officials remove all mail from envelopes before delivering it to thwart suboxone smugging.  Any mail containing crayon scribblings, stickers, or glitter glue are not delivered.  In Massachusetts, suboxone makes up 12 percent of all contraband discovered in state prisons.

The Perspectives journal article writer noted that few inmates receive drug abuse treatment while incarcerated and are at high risk for relapse once they leave. (The New York Times cited a 2009 study in which only seven state prison systems were found to offer inmates Suboxone, and criticized the way it was done.) Some people would say well, at least there are seven. But this is yet another area where we as a nation need to improve.


Joan Borsten contributed to this article.



  • Laurie B.

    I was incarcerated in 2004 for almost a year directly related to crimes I committed to feed my insatiable addiction to pain pills. Nonetheless, I was a witness to people having family members smuggle drugs in through mail as there was no perpetrator behind the mail or person who would get arrested. Drugs came in behind the stamps on regular pieces of mail, in jewelry that was intended for religious purposes. Sadly, when it comes to addiction, where there is a will — there is a way. The saddest part is the majority of inmates are there due to an addiction and crimes related thereto and if these inmates/addicts only gave themselves the opportunity — they may — just maybe — have the good peaceful life they deserve. I am one of them and I anticipate celebrating 8 years sober at the end of this month. I bring meetings in to the jail in the hopes that one inmate/addict will HEAR me, hear there is hope, and there is a life way beyond their dreams — waiting for them.

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