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Could Cannabis Stop Drug Overdose Deaths in Prison?


April 9, 2021 ( Newswire) The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that a high percentage of the United States prison population results from drug-related offenses. Efforts to collect data on substance abuse disorder in prison populations have been difficult. But the NIDA estimates as much as 65% of the U.S. prison population has a substance abuse disorder. And another 20% of inmates were convicted of a crime committed while they were under the influence of a controlled substance.

For citizens serving time, a correctional facility may be the perfect opportunity to end a substance addiction as long as the inmate cannot access drugs. Prisons provide drug addiction treatment and group therapy geared at rehabilitation. But the efforts fail when drugs can be easily acquired within the penal system. And with the cooperation of members of law enforcement engaged in criminal compliance.

While incarcerated and post-release, substance abuse is a life-threatening problem. But in the United Kingdom and other countries, innovative new pilot programs are underway. Cannabis administered as part of a medicinal program can help people step-down from opioids and other addictions. It may also be a life-saving approach in the penal system.

How Do Controlled Substances Get to Inmates?

Forget the routine of passing a weapon in a birthday cake. With advanced technology and screening, it is impossible to sneak any weapon or contraband goods into a penitentiary. Unless the person smuggling the goods in has some inside help.

There are two main ways that illegal drugs pass through security protocols in prisons to reach incarcerated inmates. And both methods require some cooperation from corrupt enforcement officers. It is lucrative for officers to turn a blind eye to drug trafficking and contraband entering prisons every day.

One method is through supply shipments. The drugs can enter prison or juvenile detention facilities through food supply deliveries. Gangs or criminal organizations can intercept wholesale food and fresh produce. Drugs can be cleverly hiding in false bottom containers or a crate of carrots. A lot of ingenuity goes into making the drugs almost undetectable. Prisons that outsource uniform or linen laundering provide an easy path to traffic drugs.

Family Visits Are Also an Opportunity to Traffic Drugs

Another common way that drugs enter into prison is through family visits. Some prisons have a protective glass wall between the inmate and the visitor. Speaking through a phone for the conversation, nothing can be passed in between.

However, many prisons provide 'family visitations' for married or common-law partners with children. These rooms are highly supervised but do not have a barrier between the visitor and the inmate. Things can be expertly passed to an inmate if they have compliant assistance from a corrupt enforcement officer. They know where to sit and at what angle to avoid camera surveillance.

Sometimes visitors will also bribe law enforcement officers. They will visit a guest bathroom to deposit drugs and other contraband. The visiting friend or family member may place the drugs within a vent or tape them under a sink or toilet. Since prisoners do not have access to guest bathroom facilities, the contraband is picked up by an enforcement officer, who delivers the drug to the inmate inconspicuously. Officers are paid well to assist or look the other way.

Drug Overdose Risk Increases After Release

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), which is a brand of the Department of Justice (DOJ), reported that in 2017, over two-thirds of offenders held in prisons and local jails had substance abuse problems. But only 25% of citizens incarcerated received drug treatment.

One of the most inherent overdose risks, however, is not while an inmate is incarcerated. It is after the individual has been released. Because controlled substances are available through the Black Market in the penal system, many inmates can continue their addiction while incarcerated. However, the amount of drugs they can consume is greatly reduced. This means that over the years, drug tolerance is reduced.

When an inmate is released, they have the memory of the number of drugs that they used recreationally in the past. However, they do not account for the fact that they have a significantly reduced tolerance. The first impulse is to source their favorite recreational drug in the quantity that they used before (when they had a higher drug tolerance). Overdose deaths of former inmates on post-release probation are tragically common for this reason. It is the leading cause of death for former inmates.

Many studies show that substance abuse treatment is essential to rehabilitation. And to the prevention of overdose deaths after release. But privatization of prison systems and fiscal cutbacks mean fewer programs while people are incarcerated. And providing free therapy for convicts appears to be a lower priority compared to providing programs for people who have not been charged with a criminal offense.

Providing Medical Cannabis Programs In Prison a Possible Solution

When penitentiaries release prisoners with drug addiction, they may provide them with step-down drugs weeks beforehand. Some prisons offer methadone or Suboxone while they are incarcerated to prepare them for release. And then refer them to healthcare providers in their community for continued addiction support. This has been shown in some pilot studies to reduce overdose deaths.

However, it does not address the problem of inmates sustaining their addiction to opioids, methamphetamines. According to the non-profit group "The Marshall Project," out of 2,300 jails in the United States, only 23 provide methadone or Suboxone maintenance therapies.

A new pilot program in the United Kingdom suggests that providing cannabis to inmates while incarcerated could solve the problem. An administered medical marijuana program (delivered by tinctures or edibles) could help ease inmates off of street drug addictions.

There are many reasons why it could work and benefit both inmates and the penal system. The number of inmates incarcerated on drug charges continues to grow. When serving time, inmates that are apprehended with drugs earn subsequent charges and penalties. It can extend the amount of time they serve. And repeated offenses compound the penalties and create longer sentences.

Free doctor-supervised microdoses of cannabis could prevent subsequent drug-related charges while incarcerated. Allowing a sustained and controlled daily dose of THC to inmates could curb the reliance and desire to get other hard drugs.

Other Benefits of Providing Medical Cannabis Programs for Inmates

Preventing drug overdoses by sustained THC doses could have many other health and safety benefits. Much of the violence that occurs in the prison system between inmates is part of organized crime. Gangs function much the same way behind bars, as they do on the street. And the currency is contraband and controlled substances.

Medical cannabis programs in legalized states are squeezing out organized crime and Black Market activity. It is reasonable to consider that by providing free doses of cannabis on a daily basis, the demand for illicit substances would decrease. It could significantly reduce and even eliminate violent drug-related trade and crimes in the prison system.

Getting prisoners to use cannabis instead of other drugs? It seems like a difficult concept to grasp. But anti-drug policies are not working. There is not one reported overdose death where cannabis was the singular drug of use. Cannabis has the potential to be behaviorally (but not chemically) addictive unlike heroin, opioids, and other substances.

Some may argue that providing cannabis makes serving time easier. What it could do is reduce prison offenses (and extended sentences). That would significantly reduce the prison population. It could reduce violent crime offenses, injuries, and deaths. And referring inmates to a medical cannabis program after release could give them a legalized alternative to refrain from using hard drugs. Helping inmates rehabilitate successfully with doctor-supervised medical cannabis after release.

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