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Study: Drug overdose leading cause of death in former prisoners

November 25, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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It has been observed that a large percentage of former prisoners die shortly after being released from prison, particularly from drug-related causes. However, little is known about risk factors and trends in post-release mortality in the past decade.

A new study, which included 76,208 individuals released from the Washington State Department of Corrections prison system, was conducted to determine post-release mortality between 1999 and 2009, cause-specific mortality rates, and whether sex, calendar year, and custody factors played a part in these deaths.

The study found that drug overdose is the leading cause of death in former prisoners, with prescription opioids most commonly involved in these deaths (“Opioids were involved in 14.8% of all deaths,” according to the study). In addition, women leaving prison had higher mortality rates from opioids, cocaine, and antidepressants than men. Also, overdose deaths in former prisoners accounted for 8.3% of the overdose deaths among persons aged 15 to 84 years in Washington from 2000 to 2009.

These findings highlight the vulnerability of former prisoners as they transition from prison to the community, suggesting the need for more effective overdose education, monitoring for medical problems, and drug treatment in prison- and community-based mental and health care systems.