Drug use and initiation in prison: results from a national prison survey in England and Wales

A Boys, M Farrell, P Bebbington, T Brugha, J Coid, R Jenkins, G Lewis, J Marsden, H Meltzer, N Singleton, C Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Citations (Scopus)


Aims To investigate heroin and cocaine use in a sample of British prisoners, and to explore the characteristics of inmates who use these drugs for the first time while in prison. Design, participants A cross-sectional survey of all prisons in England and Wales conducted as part of a major national study of psychiatric morbidity. A total of 3142 prisoners (88.2% of those selected) completed a structured interviewer-administered questionnaire. Measurements Interview measures of personal demographics, social history, psychiatric morbidity and drug use. Personality disorders were diagnosed via the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID-II) and neurotic symptoms were assessed using the revised Clinical Interview Schedule (CIS-R). Findings More than 60% of the heroin users and cannabis users reported that they had used these drugs in prison compared with. less than a quarter of the life-time cocaine users. More than a quarter of the heroin users reported that they had initiated use of this drug in prison. The extent of an individual's experience of prison was related more consistently to heroin and/or cocaine use in and out of prison than other personal background, social history or psychiatric variables assessed. Conclusions The findings indicate that prisons are a high-risk environment for heroin and other drug initiation and use. Although related to drug use, psychiatric variables were not generally associated with initiation in prison, which was dominated by prison exposure. There is a need to explore ways of reducing heroin initiation in prison as part of a broader risk-prevention strategy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1551 - 1560
Number of pages10
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2002


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