Drug abuse

Drug abuse


Drug addiction among incarcerated population pose a complex challenge, only possible to address by developing specialized services within penal institutions.

The prevalence of substance abuse and dependence is exponentially higher in prisoners than the general population, having the relationship between offending and substance misuse been widely demonstrated.

Research findings suggest that 25% to 50% of people who are received into custody have serious drug problems (1). The drug most frequently used by prisoners is cannabis, followed by cocaine and heroin.

Additionally, data from several European Union countries has revealed that the proportion of prisoners who have ever used any drug ranges from 16% to 79%, with many countries reporting percentages higher than 50% (2).

Health conditions, especially communicable diseases and psychiatric ones, are prevalent among prisoners using drugs. Although many drug users stop or reduce their use of drugs when they enter prison, some go on or switch from one substance to another, and some may even start the addiction there.

Given the complexity and contours of the challenge and of its outcomes, information on the prevalence of substance abuse and dependence in prisoners is important, as there is chance for initiating treatment and/or for encouraging contact with community services on release. In this case, prison may provide the only opportunity that many inmates have to engage with treatment. Hence the potential of specialized addiction services within penal institutions.

(1) Oliemeulen L et al. Problematische alcoholgebruikers, druggebruikers, en gokkers in het gevangeniswezen [Problematic alcohol users, drug users and gamblers in prison]. Rotterdam, Ministry of Justice, Research and Documentation Centre, 2007.

(2) Niveau G, Ritter C. Route of administration of illicit drugs among remand prison entrants. European Addiction Research, 2008, 14(2):92–98.