WEDNESDAY, July 13, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Almost 10 percent of fatal adult drug overdoses may involve recently released prison inmates, a new Canadian study suggests.
"This is the first Canadian study to examine overdose mortality rates by matching incarceration records with coroner reports after release," said study author Dr. Nav Persaud. He is a scientist with the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
"We were surprised at how high the fatal overdose rate was among those who were recently released from provincial custody -- almost 12 times higher than the general population," Persaud added.
Not only did one in 10 overdose deaths involve a recently released inmate, but the risk for a fatal overdose among inmates was found to be highest immediately following release, the study found.
"Previous research has speculated that the higher risk for overdose immediately following release can be attributed to periods of no or less frequent drug use while individuals are incarcerated," Persaud said in a St. Michael's news release.
"Once released, these individuals may not realize that their tolerance has diminished and [they] can accidentally overdose," he explained.
The investigators analyzed data provided by the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which registered the releases of roughly 50,000 inmates between 2006 and 2013. The release dates were then cross-referenced with coroner report information.
The team also observed that most of the deaths involved opioid use.
"At least some of these deaths are preventable and there may be opportunities to prevent overdose deaths by supporting this vulnerable group -- during incarceration and immediately following release," said Persaud.
"Future research and policy should focus on immediate interventions, such as directing people to treatment programs and providing better access to [the anti-overdose drug] naloxone, drug substitution therapies and overdose prevention education," he added.
The findings were published in the July 6 issue of PLOS One.
There's more on opioid drug overdose risk at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.