Pre-incarceration polysubstance use involving opioids: A unique risk factor of postrelease return to substance use

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2021 Aug;127:108354. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2021.108354. Epub 2021 Mar 5.


Objective: Justice-involved populations are at increased risk of overdose following release from prison and jail. This risk is exacerbated by polysubstance use, including the use of opioids with other substances. This study explored pre-incarceration polysubstance use involving opioids as a unique risk factor for postrelease return to substance use.

Methods: The study examined data from a cohort of 501 justice-involved persons who were enrolled in a therapeutic community treatment program while incarcerated. Latent profile validation identified profiles of polysubstance use involving opioids prior to incarceration. Multivariate logistic regression examined return to substance use, defined as self-reported relapse, and a time series model examined time in the community until a relapse event occurred.

Results: A latent profile validation found six unique polysubstance opioid patterns prior to incarceration. Two of these profiles, primarily alcohol and primarily buprenorphine, were at increased and accelerated risk for relapse postrelease relative to a less polysubstance use profile. Both profiles at increased risk had pre-incarceration co-use of marijuana (≈45% of month) and nonmedical use of opioids (≈40% of month) but were unique in their respective near daily use of alcohol and nonmedical buprenorphine.

Conclusions: Among persons who use opioids returning to the community, return to substance use occurs along a continuum of risk. Providers' consideration of polysubstance use patterns during treatment may assist in mitigating adverse outcomes for patients postrelease.

Keywords: Criminal justice; Opioids; Polysubstance use; Prison; Reentry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Drug Overdose*
  • Humans
  • Prisons
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid