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Studies of drug users in prison

National routine information on drug use and patterns of use among prisoners is rare. Most of the data available in the EU come from ad hoc studies among prisoners carried out at local level with samples that vary considerably in size and they are often not representative of the whole prison system.

Overview of the data

Drug users in prison

The index below lists the tables in the bulletin and the supplementary downloadable table in the section dealing with drug users in prisons, along with a brief summary overview. See also the main overall index for all sections.

This section reports on various studies of prison inmates in different EU Member States and Norway over the past decade. Results shown in the studies cover a range of drugs including opiates, cocaine, cannabis and polydrug use, and prevalence is estimated for a range of inmate sub-populations: injectors, males, females, youth. A further, more complete table is available in the supplementary table to the bulletin, indexed below.

Table DUP-105. Prevalence (percentage) of drug use among prisoners in EU Member States and Norway — full listing of studies.

The first table of the section, Table DUP-0 gives the source bibliographic references for the studies reported in tables DUP-1 to DUP-5.

Summary points

Surveys carried out between 2000 and 2007 show that the proportion of prisoners(both on-remand and convicted) who report having ever used an illicit drug varies greatly between prison populations, detention centres and countries, from a third or less in a few countries, to above 50% in most studies. Cannabis remains the most frequently reported illicit drug, with lifetime prevalence rates of up to 78%. Although lifetime use of other substances can be very low in some prisons (down to 1%), some studies report lifetime prevalence rates of 50–60% for heroin, amphetamines or cocaine among prisoners. See Table DUP-01 for the proportions of lifetime (ever) drug users in prisons.

The most damaging forms of drug use may also be concentrated among prisoners, with some studies reporting that more than a third of those surveyed have ever injected drugs(see Table DUP-2).

Studies carried out between 2000 and 2007 in Europe show that between 1% and 56% of inmates report having used drugs within prison (see Table DUP-3) and that up to a third of inmates have injected drugs while in custody (see Table DUP-4).