Drugs, detention, and death: a study of the mortality of recently released prisoners. Academic Article uri icon


  • It has been theorized that drug abusers recently released from prison have an increased risk of fatal drug overdose. The objective of this study was to determine whether persons released from prison in the state of New Mexico have an increased risk of death due to unintentional drug overdose in the time immediately after release from prison. A total of 96 people were identified who had been released from prison and subsequently suffered an unnatural death in 2001 through 2003. Among those who had drug-caused deaths, there was a significantly increased risk of dying in the first 2 weeks after release versus the subsequent 10 weeks RR = 3.08 (P < 0.001, 95% CI: 1.83-5.16). For those who died in the first 2 months after release, there was an increased risk of fatal drug overdose compared with dying of other unnatural causes (P = 0.025). Of those who died of fatal drug overdoses within the first 2 months, the average incarceration time was significantly longer than those who lived longer than 2 months after release (P = 0.021) and they were more likely to have used opiates (P < 0.0001) and sedatives (P = 0.01). Prisoners are at an increased risk of a fatal unintentional drug overdose immediately after release. The time surrounding release provides an opportunity for education on the risks of accidental overdose and the development of interventions to mitigate these risks.

publication date

  • January 1, 2009