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The province of BC, Canada is in the grips of a sustained overdose epidemic. People released from prison are at increased risk of fatal drug overdose, but the impact of the overdose epidemic on mortality after release from prison in BC is poorly understood. Few studies have been able to examine risk factors for overdose death in this population.
Objectives and Approach
We aimed to (a) measure risk of overdose-related and all-cause death in different time periods after release from prison; and (b) identify risk factors for overdose-related and all-cause death. In a random 20% sample of the population of BC, Canada, we identified those released from prison 2015-2017 and examined linked health and correctional records for this cohort.
Of 6106 persons released from prison 2015-2017, 77 (1.3%) died from any cause and 48 (0.8%) died from overdose 2015-2017. The incidence of all-cause death was 16.1 (95%CI 13.7-18.8) per 1000 person years, and the incidence of overdose death was 11.2 (95%CI 9.2-13.5) per 1000 person years. Risk factors for overdose death included a history of 3 or more incarcerations (HR=3.00, 95%CI 1.67-5.39), co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness (HR=4.73, 95%CI 2.94-7.62), chronic physical morbidity (HR=3.10, 95%CI 1.97-4.88), and being dispensed benzodiazepines (HR=3.31, 95%CI 2.27-4.84) or opioids for pain (HR=6.77, 95%CI 3.86-11.89). The incidence of fatal overdose was significantly higher in the first two weeks post-release than at any other time during follow-up.
People released from prison in BC are at markedly increased risk of preventable death, mainly due to overdose. As such, people transitioning from prison to the community should be a key target population for overdose prevention efforts. To be maximally effective, these efforts must go beyond provision of methadone and naloxone on release, to consider physical and mental health comorbidities, and psychosocial disadvantage.
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