• Individuals with a history of incarceration are at high risk of overdose.
• The risk for overdose is highest immediately following release from incarceration.
• Demographic, substance use and incarceration-related factors increase overdose risk.
• Scaleup of overdose prevention and response for these individuals is needed.
Rates of opioid overdose (OD) have risen to unprecedented numbers and more than half of incarcerated individuals meet the criteria for substance use disorder, placing them at high risk. This review describes the relationship between incarceration history and OD.
A scoping review was conducted and criteria for inclusion were: set in North America, published in English, and non-experimental study of formerly incarcerated individuals. Due to inconsistent definitions of opioid OD, we included all studies examining OD where opioids were mentioned.
The 18 included studies were all published in 2001 or later. Four associations between incarceration history and OD were identified: (1) six studies assessed incarceration history as a risk factor for OD and four found a significantly higher risk of OD among individuals with a history of incarceration compared to those without; (2) nine studies examined the rate of OD compared to the general population: eight found a significantly higher risk of fatal OD among those with a history of incarceration and three documented the highest risk of death immediately following release; (3) six studies found demographic, substance use and mental health, and incarceration-related risk factors for OD among formerly incarcerated individuals; and (4) four studies assessed the proportion of deaths due to OD and found a range from 5 % to 57 % among formerly incarcerated individuals.
Findings support the growing call for large-scale implementation of evidence-based OD prevention interventions in correctional settings and among justice-involved populations to reduce OD burden in this high-risk population.