Two-thirds of prisoners in the United States have a history of opioid use. Prescription or illicit opioid overdose death risk for people recently released from incarceration is catastrophically high. For people using heroin, the risk, within the first two-weeks is 74 times higher than the general public; and for prescription opioids, it is 40 times higher within two-weeks of release. Even a year after someone gets out, the risk is still 18 times higher.
For the past two years, all 11 state prisons and 8 county jails have been providing free Narcan to men and women returning to their communities. Since 95% of people will return home from imprisonment, this is a critical statewide project. Prisoner health is community health.
This past summer, the New Mexico Association of Counties funded an educational video designed to engage prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families and friends about the potential risk for opioid overdose death when people return home. The video includes training on how to prevent, recognize, and respond to an overdose using naloxone; as well as prisoners and families sharing their stories and experiences with substance use, overdose, and incarceration.
In tailoring the video to prisoners, the producers hoped to drive the point home that overdose is preventable, and that all people have the capacity to make, even small changes in their lives, that can reduce their risk of a fatal one. The video also makes a conspicuous effort to convey the message that all people are deserving of dignity and respect, regardless of their history of drug use; and that dead people cannot change – even when the change means using drugs in safer ways to prevent overdose.