Drug users and prison

Drug users in prison

National routine information on type and pattern of drug use among prisoners is scarce and patchy. Much of the data available in the EU comes from ad hoc studies based on samples of varying size, the results of which (and trends) are very difficult to extrapolate.

Drug users are strongly overrepresented among the prison population compared with the general population. In most studies in the EU, lifetime prevalence of drug use among prisoners is reported to be over 50 %; however, it varies widely, from 22 % to 86 %, between prison populations, detention centres and countries (184). In the EU, the prevalence of regular drug use or dependence prior to imprisonment ranges from 8 % to 73 % (185).

The majority of drug users reduce or stop their drug use on admission to prison. However, many prisoners continue to use drugs after incarceration, and some start using drugs (and/or injecting drugs) in prison. Available studies show that between 8 % and 60 % of inmates report having used drugs while in prison, and 10–42 % report regular drug use (186).

Lifetime prevalence of injecting drug use among prisoners is generally reported to be between 15 % and 50 %; however, some studies have reported values as low as 1 % or as high as 69 %. Where comparable data are available (Austria 1999, England and Wales 1997–98), they show that young offenders are less likely to inject than adults and that, among the prison population, women are more likely to inject than men (187). Based on several studies in the EU, Bird and Rotily (2002) have shown that around one-third of adult male prisoners are drug injectors. Data provided by the Reitox focal points show that between 0.2 % and 34 % of inmates (188) have injected drugs while in prison. This raises issues of access to sterile injection equipment and hygienic sharing practices among the prison population and the potential spread of infectious diseases.


(184) See Table DUP-1 in the 2005 statistical bulletin.

(185) See Table DUP-5 (annex) in the 2005 statistical bulletin.

(186) See Table DUP-3 in the 2005 statistical bulletin.

(187) See Table DUP-2 in the 2005 statistical bulletin.

(188) See Table DUP-4 in the 2005 statistical bulletin.