New Publication: Can routine data from prisoners’ files be used to estimate prevalence rates of illicit drug use among prisoners?

Beatrice Annaheim, Tenzin Wangmo, Wiebke Bretschneider, Marc Vogel, Bernice S. Elger

The paper examines whether routine data fromprisoners' files is a useful basis to estimate prevalence ratesof illicit drug use among prisoners. Methods Medico-legal files of 190 younger (20-49 years) and 190 older (50-75 years) male prisoners from 13 prisonsin Switzerland were analysed. Indications of illicit druguse were extracted based on recorded legal measures, notesfrom health care professionals, diagnoses related to the useof illicit substances, prescribed medications, other treatmentindicators, and results from mandatory drug tests inprison.

Results Estimated lifetime prevalence of illicit drug usebased on those indicators is 50.0% for younger and 24.2% for older prisoners. Current cannabis use is an estimated 10.0% and current cocaine, opioids, or other drug use 4.7%for younger prisoners. Among older prisoners, prevalenceof current cannabis use is an estimated 3.2% and of otherdrug use 0.5%.

The paper concludes that analysing routine data is a reasonable alternative to surveys if prisoners' files are kept more complete and concise and if data is collected for no other purpose than to benefit prisoners' health.

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