by Matt Rosenberg January 16th, 2012
A recently published federally-funded research study tracking more than 30,000 ex-prison inmates released in Washington state shows that among the cohort of 1.5 percent or 443 that died within an almost two-year medical surveillance period, one-sixth perished in connection with use of so-called psychostimulant drugs – typically from an overdose. Researchers wanted to begin to zero in on the role in these deaths of non-cocaine psychostimulants such as meth, and found they’re definitely in the mix. The report also underscored that the risk of psychostimulant-related deaths for Washington state ex-inmates is highest within the first two weeks of release. So-called psychostimulants such as cocaine, meth and ecstasy are a distinctly different class of drugs from opioids such as heroin, morphine, codeine, fentyl and Oxycontin; which are prescribed for pain but also sometimes abused.
In the study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine a research team led by Dr. Susan Calcaterra of the University of Colorado-Denver Medical School tracked official causes of death among inmates released in Washington State including those formerly held by the Washington Department of Corrections. For prisoners released over a three-and-a-half-year stretch they tracked they whys and wherefores of any deaths within almost two years of release. At the same time they focused on the role in any of those deaths of cocaine versus non-cocaine psychostimulants such as methamphetamine, ecstasy and the ADHD drugs Ritalin and Adderall.
Overall just more than half as many of the psychostimulant-related deaths involved non-cocaine drugs as cocaine-only. Seventy-four of the 443 deaths were related to psychostimulants; 49 involved cocaine only while 25 involved non-cocaine drugs (which in six instances were mixed with cocaine). The highest percentage of deaths in all three groups came shortly after release. Within two weeks of release 29 percent of the cocaine-only related deaths had occurred. This compares to 20 percent of the non-cocaine psychostimulant-related fatalities and nine percent of all 443 deaths.
The most prevalent “co-occuring reason” for the non-cocaine psychostimulant-related deaths of Washington state ex-inmates tracked via the study was ingestion of three or more drugs. The next most frequent related factor was a mental or behavioral condition related to ingestion of multiple drugs. The underlying cause of death in these cases and also in the cocaine-related deaths was most often listed as an an overdose (“accidental poisoning by and exposure to substances”). More than four-fifths of the victims in the non-cocaine drug deaths were white males whereas for the cocaine-related deaths 71 percent of the victims were male and 55 percent were white.
Researchers also found that the longer the stay in prison, the lesser the odds of a released inmate dying in conection with use of non-cocaine psychostimulants or a mix of non-cocaine psychostimulants and cocaine. This may be due to in-prison substance abuse programs for inmates who are identified through screening, and outpatient programs, according to the study. A survey by the research team of the peer-reviewed literature showed that nationally anywhere from 10 to 48 percent of male prisoners released into custody and 30 to 60 percent of females have drug dependencies.
The study concludes, “…criminal justice populations should be warned about the risk of death because of psychostimulants, especially in the context of polydrug abuse and during the transition from prison to the community. Providing treatment for methamphetmine abuse to inmates, and continuing treatment upon release, may help prevent the trends illustrated by this study.”
Researchers were supported during the study by grants from sources including the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.