Home > Prisons and drugs: health and social responses.

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. (2022) Prisons and drugs: health and social responses. Lisbon: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

PDF (Prisons and drugs: health and social responses)

External website: https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/mini-gui...

Key issues

People who commit criminal offences and enter the criminal justice system have higher rates of drug use and injecting than the general population. They are also often repeat offenders and make up a significant proportion of the prison population.


Drug use can be linked to offending in a number of ways: some offenders with drug problems are incarcerated for use or possession offences; many others are imprisoned for other drug law offences or crimes, such as theft committed to obtain money for drugs. The complex healthcare needs of these individuals should be assessed on entry to prison with regular follow-ups thereafter.


Drug use also occurs in prisons and presents a public health and safety risk to both inmates and prison officers. The risk of overdose death for people who use opioids is particularly high in the period immediately after release from prison, making continuity of care an important focus.


People who use drugs and come into contact with the criminal justice system are a dynamic population that has regular contacts with the community. In responding to drug-related problems in prison settings, the health of people both in prison and in the community can be improved, producing an overall societal benefit.


The international drug conventions recognise that people with drug dependence problems need health and social support and allow for alternatives to coercive sanctions to help them address their drug-use problems.

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