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Released Inmates & the Opioid Epidemic



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“When an inmate addicted to opioids is released from prison, his chances of a fatal overdose are massively elevated: According to a 2007 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, former inmates’ risk of a fatal drug overdose is 129 times as high as it is for the general population during the two weeks after release. Other studies have backed this up, putting the increased risk of overdose death in the tens of times or above 100 times.

A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health also concluded that former inmates, within the first two weeks of their release, were 40 times more likely to die from an opioid overdose–than an average person.

Our jails and prisons prisons are not treating opioid abuse, and the lack of effective treatment is contributing to our growing national opioid epidemic.  America’s opioid crisis claimed more than 42,000 lives in 2016.


Researchers tracked almost 230,000 former North Carolina inmates released  between 2000–2015. They compared the released inmates drug overdoses  with North Carolina residents. After one year after release, the former inmates were 11 times more likely to overdose, than any other North Carolina citizen.

The risk of fatal opioid overdose was highest among male white prisoners, ages 26 to 50. At greatest risk,  were inmates, who had two previous sentences, and had received drug abuse and mental health treatment during past imprisonments.

The majority of released inmates return to the same environment, that had led to their addiction and criminal offenses. Without effective community rehabilitation programs, the released inmates fall back into the same pattern of substance use, which leads to criminal offenses to support their addictions.

Vox reported in March, only Rhode Island’s prison system treated opioid-addicted inmates with three medications, which have proven to decrease the mortality rate of opioid addicts by at least 50 percent. Sixteen other states  provide only one of the three medications and twenty eight state prison systems do not offer any medication to addicted prisoners.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of
Prison Consultant

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