33% of ex-prisoners’ drug deaths occur within week of release

ALMOST a third of prisoners who die from drugs after being released from jail die within a week.

Research shows nearly half of this group die within a month including eight out of 10 who are on temporary, or early, release.

The report from the Health Research Board (HRB) comes as separate figures show almost 1,000 convicted criminals are on temporary release as the prison overcrowding crisis deepens.

The HRB report — the first of its type in Ireland — said many of the deaths are preventable through inexpensive action such as better links between prisons and treatment services and training to prevent overdoses. The report said there were 130 recorded drug deaths among prisoners and ex-prisoners between 1998 and 2005, but said this was likely to be an underestimate.

The HRB authors, lead by Suzi Lyons, said the 130 represented 5% of the 2,442 people on the National Drug-Related Deaths Index, a “much higher” proportion than for the general population.

It said 105 of the 130 had left prison: 93 after completing their sentence and 12 on temporary (or early) release. Of the 105, 25 (or 28%) died within a week of release and a further 17 (19%) within a month.

The mortality rate was the worst among the 12 people on temporary release, 10 of whom died within the first month. The research found exact dates of release for 89 individuals.

The results show of 105 drug deaths of ex-prisoners:

*89% were male, 62% were aged 20 to 29 and 84% were unemployed.

*20% were living in unstable accommodation and 10% were homeless.

*97% had a history of drug misuse, 61% had a history of drug injecting use and 34% were reported to be injecting at the time of their death.

*30% were on the methadone treatment register at the time.

*67% of deaths were due to poisonings.

*63% of deaths by poisoning within a month of release were due to two or more drugs.

* Heroin or methadone were involved in 79% of single drug deaths and 96% of polydrug deaths.

Campaigners have said that simple and inexpensive measures could cut the high number of prisoners who are dying. These include better communication between prisons and outside drug services, and more training for users, their families and drug workers on how to prevent overdoses.

Researchers said this number was “much higher” than for the general population and added the figure of 130 was likely to be an underestimate.

The report, Drug-Related Deaths Among Recently Released Prisoners in Ireland, was published in the International Journal of Prisoner Health. It concluded: “The increased proportions of individuals who die so soon after release from prison highlights the need for preventative measures for this at-risk group.

“Such measures include ensuring the release of drug-dependant prisoners in a planned manner, providing continuity of methadone and other forms of drug treatment, and providing accommodation and support to enter education or employment on release.”

It called for improved communication between prison services and addiction treatment and reintegration services.


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