Many Alcohol, Drug-Related Deaths In Former Prisoners Are Preventable, Study Finds
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A recent study found that a large portion of the alcohol and drug-related deaths of former prisoners could have been prevented.
The study, led by Seena Fazel, professor of Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, examined nearly 48,000 people who were released from Swedish prisons between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009. The study found that alcohol and drug misuse was responsible for 34% of the deaths in former male prisoners and 50% in the former female prisoners. Furthermore, the study found that in 42% of the cases in men and in 70% of the cases in women the deaths were preventable.
“Our striking findings show the potential for preventive and therapeutic programmers to significantly reduce the number of deaths from alcohol and substance misuse, which are highly prevalent among the 30 million people worldwide who spend time in prison every year,” Fazel said. “In England and Wales, we estimate that around 3% of all deaths from external causes can be prevented if alcohol and substance use disorders were fully treated in released prisoners. In the USA, where there are much higher incarceration rates, about 9% of deaths from external causes are potentially preventable.”
Fazel goes on to explain that while the rate of alcohol and drug abuse is nearly the same, as well as the corresponding mortality risks, alcohol-related services receive drastically less funding.
“Although alcohol abuse is as common as drug abuse, and the high mortality risks following release are similar, it does not receive the same level of attention or funding. For example, in 2010-2011 nearly half the prisons in England and Wales had no alcohol-related services available.”
Sarah Wakeman from Harvard Medical School and Josiah Rich from Brown University add that American correctional facilities are required by law to provide medical care comparable to societal standards. However, the vast majority of prisoners with drug use disorders are uncared for.
“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,” Wakeman and Rich said. “The withholding of evidence-based treatment for prisoners is arguably unethical and certainly unwise.”