Due to the opioid epidemic, other drugs and related offenses, women represent the fastest growing jailed population in America. The rise in the number of incarcerated women is tearing apart more families and weighing heavily on communities that lack funding, treatment programs and permanent solutions to break the cycle of addiction and imprisonment, according to an exclusive and disturbing report from the Associated Press.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of women in jail rose from 13,258 in 1980 to 102,300 in 2016, with the largest increase being seen in smaller counties. Similarly, the population of females in prison ballooned from 5,600 in 1970 to more than 110,000 in 2016. The arrest rate for drug possession or use tripled for women between 1980 and 2009, while it doubled for men, with opioid abuse exacerbating the problem.

The Associated Press reported, “In Montgomery County, Ohio, more than 3,600 women have been jailed for addiction-related crimes in the last two years, twice the number since 2014. In Henrico County, Virginia, the female jail population has grown from about 60 daily in 2000 to nearly 300; a survey of inmates found more than 4 in 10 women had their kids removed from them while on drugs. The jail has responded with an opiate treatment program.”

Jessica Hulsey Nickel, president of the patient advocacy group Addiction Policy Forum, said that locales in rural America are especially vulnerable since such areas lack resources and readily accessible treatment to help curb the problem. Nickel noted that if someone in recovery has to drive several hours to see a specialist or receive regular doses of methadone, “It’s going to make staying on that path nearly impossible.”

Mary-Linden Salter, director of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addiction Services, said her state does not have enough psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and nurses in rural areas. Residential drug treatment also is scarce in those communities. “It’s unrealistic for people to travel 700 miles for treatment because that’s where there’s an open bed,” Salter said.

“Women are the caregivers of their families,” Salter said. “They get blamed and shamed for not taking care of their children. But they get blamed and shamed for not being in recovery. It’s a horrible choice.”

The Associated Press conducted multiple interviews with several women jailed for drug addiction, and the painful impact it is having on their families, especially their children, as seen in the video below.

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