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Substance Use During Imprisonment in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

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      Substance use disorders are among the most common health problems of people involved with the criminal justice system. Scaling up addiction services in prisons is a global public health and human rights challenge, especially in poorly resourced countries. We systematically reviewed the prevalence of substance use in prison populations in low- and middle-income countries. We searched for studies reporting prevalence rates of nicotine, alcohol, illicit drug, and injection drug use during imprisonment in unselected samples of imprisoned people in low- and middle-income countries. Data meta-analysis was conducted and sources of heterogeneity were examined by meta-regression. Prevalence of nicotine use during imprisonment ranged from 5% to 87%, with a random-effects pooled estimate of 56% (95% confidence interval (CI): 45, 66) with significant geographical heterogeneity. Alcohol use varied from 1% to 76% (pooled prevalence, 16%, 95% CI: 9, 25). Approximately one-quarter of people (25%; 95% CI: 17, 33; range, 0–78) used illicit drugs during imprisonment. The prevalence of injection drug use varied from 0% to 26% (pooled estimate, 1.6%, 95% CI: 0.8, 3.0). Lifetime substance use was investigated in secondary analyses. The high prevalence of smoking in prison suggests that policies regarding smoking need careful review. Furthermore, the findings underscore the importance of timely, scalable, and available treatments for alcohol and illegal drug use by people involved with the criminal justice system.

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            Author and article information

            [1 ]Medical Faculty, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile
            [2 ]Medical School, Universidad San Sebastián, Puerto Montt, Chile
            [3 ]Center for Research on Environment Society and Health, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
            [4 ]Institute and Polyclinic for Occupational and Social Medicine, Technische Universität Dresden, Germany
            [5 ]Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy Campus Mitte, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany
            [6 ]Department of Psychiatry, Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom
            Author notes
            Correspondence to Seena Fazel, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, OX2 7LB, United Kingdom (e-mail: ).
            Epidemiol Rev
            Epidemiol Rev
            Epidemiologic Reviews
            Oxford University Press
            June 2018
            23 March 2018
            23 March 2018
            : 40
            : 1
            : 70-81
            © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

            Pages: 12
            Funded by: Wellcome Trust 10.13039/100004440
            Award ID: 202836/Z/16/Z

            Public health

            substance use, prison, prevalence, nicotine, injection drug use, illicit drugs, alcohol


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