Drug use, anxiety and depression among people living in prison in Belgium

Wednesday, 23 November, 2022 - 10:50 to 12:20


It has been reported that imprisonment increases vulnerabilities among people in prison. The prevalence of drug use and mental illness in prison far exceeds that of the general population. Because recent Belgian data is lacking, we sought to get profound prevalence data about drug use, anxiety and depression among people in prison.

Data were derived from 158 randomly selected persons in Belgian prison as part of the ‘PRS-20’ project, a cross-sectional study conducted in 5 European Countries in 2021-2022. Drug use was examined for a) the period outside prison, before the current imprisonment and b) for the period inside prison, during the current imprisonment. Depression and anxiety were measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 instruments. Descriptive and bivariate analyses were performed among people who reported drug use during the current imprisonment and those who did not.

21.7% of the participants reported never having used drugs before or during the current imprisonment. 41.5% reported drug use before but not during the current imprisonment, while 35.4% reported drug use before and during the current imprisonment and 1.4% used drugs during the current imprisonment only. Last month prevalence during the current imprisonment was the highest for cannabis (45.3%), sedatives (20.8%), and amphetamines (13.2%). Furthermore, one in four indicated having ever initiated certain drugs inside prison and 40% reported anxiety or depression.

Respondents that report illicit drug use during current detention differ significantly (p<0.05) from their counterparts based on gender, prison duration, detention rate, whether or not being convicted already and their history of drug use before the current imprisonment.

These results highlight that drug use, anxiety and depression should be included as key topics in a structural prison policy in Belgium. By doing so, the needs of people in prison can be taken better into account.


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