Drug-Related Deaths Among Young People Involved in The Criminal Justice System: A Whole-Population Multi-Sectoral Data Linkage Study

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Jesse T Young
Holly Tibble
Rohan Borschmann
Stuart A Kinner


Drug-related death is substantially higher in formerly incarcerated adults compared to the general population. Despite this, remarkably little is known about the epidemiology of drug-related death among justice-involved adolescents. A richer understanding of drug-related mortality in justice-involved young people is essential for the development of effective, evidence-based interventions for this vulnerable group.

Objectives and Approach
In a whole-population cohort of justice-involved young people in Queensland, Australia, we aimed to: 1) calculate the rate of drug-related death overall, and separately by intent and drug category; and 2) estimate the probability, and identify the predictors of, drug-related death. We probabilistically linked Youth Justice Queensland and National Death Index (NDI) records for every young person who came into contact with the youth justice system in Queensland between 1 January 1993 and 31 December 2014 (N=48,963). The NDI provided death data until 31 December 2017. Crude mortality rates (CMR) were calculated
overall, separately by intent, and by prescribed versus illicit drug cause. Competing risk survival analysis will be conducted.

Of the 48,963 individuals, 1452 (3%) died by 31 December 2017. Of these, 204 (14%) deaths were due to drugs, yielding a CMR of 31 (95%CI:27-36) per 100,000 person-years. Most drug-related deaths were recorded as intentional (CMR=28; 95%CI:24-33 per 100,000 person-years) and deaths from prescribed medications were more common than illicit drugs (CMR=17; 95%CI:14-20 and CMR=11; 95%CI:9-14 per 100,000 person-years, respectively).

Conclusion / Implications
Rates of drug-related deaths following contact with the youth justice system are disproportionately high and represent a major public health concern. Our findings highlight the importance of initiation of alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment upon contact with the youth justice system and continuous engagement with community treatment after discharge from the youth justice system. Evidenced-base prevention strategies and efforts to improve the continuity of care are urgently needed.

Article Details

How to Cite
Young, J. T., Tibble, H., Borschmann, R. and Kinner, S. A. (2020) “Drug-Related Deaths Among Young People Involved in The Criminal Justice System: A Whole-Population Multi-Sectoral Data Linkage Study”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 5(5). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v5i5.1570.

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