US prison release a health risk: study

A new study reinforces the risks associated with overdose and release from prison:

Getting released from US prisons could be even more dangerous than being in them.

Death and prison records from Washington state show that 30,237 convicts released from 1999 to 2003 were 12 times more likely to die from a drug overdose and 10 times more likely to be murdered in a two-year period than the general population.

During the two-week period immediately after their release, compared to years later, the ex-cons were:

* 29 times more likely to die from cocaine;

* 34 times more likely to die from a heroin overdose;

* 15 times more likely to be killed by alcohol;

* more than twice as likely to be gunned down; and

* nearly 8 times more likely to commit suicide.

The authors of the study characterized these results as surprising. I’m not sure why it should be surprising. It’s well known that substance use problems occur in around 80% of inmates and that addicts are at greatest risk for overdose after a period of abstinence, especially involuntary abstinence. Additionally, people who end up in prison are probably among those with the greatest number of co-occurring problems. They get placed in a toxic environment, get little or no treatment and (locally) are often released into conditions that make relapse and recidivism nearly inevitable.