Prevalence of illicit drug use before imprisonment in Europe: results from a comprehensive literature review

Frank van de Baan*, Linda Montanari, Luis Royuela, Paul Lemmens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review

4 Citations (Web of Science)


Current data on the prevalence of prior illicit drug use among the prison population in Europe is
scarce. The aim of this study is to identify the prevalence of illicit drug use prior to incarceration, as
reported by studies conducted in 30 European countries. A comprehensive literature review was conducted
from the 5–31 of March 2018 using the databases Cochrane Library, Embase, MEDLINE,
PsychINFO and PubMed. After the deletion of duplications, 2607 articles meeting the eligibility criteria
for review were identified. In total, 26 studies from 12 different countries have been included in this
review. The review found that the lifetime prevalence of illicit drug use before imprisonment ranged
from 30 to 93%; last year prevalence from 51 to 69%; last 6months prevalence from 13 to 75% and
last month prevalence from 58 to 62%. The prevalence of illicit drug use was especially high among
women. The rates varied across the 26 studies although high prevalence values are reported in most
studies and variations are partly related to methodological differences in the reviewed studies. The
high levels of prior involvement with drugs, necessitates prisons to develop clear strategies to deal
with illicit drug use.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalDrugs-Education Prevention and Policy
Issue number1
Early online date23 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2022


  • Illicit drug use
  • prison
  • Europe
  • drug-related interventions

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