Substance abuse has been identified as one of the reasons that the preventable death rates for former prisoners is unacceptably high. Recent figures and details have caused many to describe the rates as alarmingly high. In the past higher mortality rates among former prisoners was high but no efforts were made to determine why this was the case or to perform an in depth investigation of this. In the USA alone there are more than 5 million people who were former prisoners last year, and this population accounted for approximately 12% of the deaths in the country. Researchers at Oxford University, UK, performed an analysis of the death causes for all of the prisoners who were released from prison in the country of Sweden between the years 2000 and 2009 and were deceased.
The study on substance abuse and former prisoners showed that many of the deaths were preventable. 42% of the males involved had a psychiatric diagnosis for at least one mental disorder, and this percentage was even higher for women at 64%. The substance abuse prevalence among all former prisoners was very high. Around 6% of former prisoners were dead within 5 years of being released from incarceration, and 44% of the deaths were considered preventable because they were caused by preventable accidents or suicide. 34% of the deaths for men and 50% of the deaths for women in the group were linked to substance abuse. Former prisoners who had a previous history of substance abuse before incarceration had even higher rates of preventable death linked to substance abuse.
A study commentary by Harvard Medical School researcher Sarah Wakeman, M.D. and Brown University researcher Josiah Rich, M.D., M.P.H. states “Addiction is a treatable disease and decades of scientific evidence support the efficacy of treatment to improve clinical outcomes, save lives, and reduce societal costs. The withholding of evidence-based treatment for prisoners is arguably unethical and certainly unwise. In the USA, correctional facilities are mandated by the Supreme Court to provide medical care that meets the community standard. And yet, within state prisons people with drug use disorders largely go without care. Of these people, only 0.8 percent receive detoxification services, 0.3 percent receive maintenance pharmacotherapy, 6.5 percent receive counselling by a professional, and 9.5 percent receive treatment in a residential facility. The absence of care in this deeply affected population translates into high costs to society and the communities that these individuals return to. As the study shows, these costs also translate into avoidable deaths from a treatable illness.”