Deaths in prison raise questions as to the quality of care and supervision provided by correctional authorities. This is particularly so for non-natural deaths, including overdoses and suicide deaths.
Dr Sarah Larney has been conducting a number of important research projects evaluating the health and economic benefits of opioid substitution therapy within prisons. Her research focuses on health and criminal justice harms of opioid dependence, and the role of opioid pharmacotherapies in addressing these harms.
Dr Larney has conducted extensive research into the harms of opioid dependence, the role of opioid pharmacotherapies in addressing these harms, and the epidemiology of hepatitis C and HIV infection among prisoners and those who inject drugs.
This research examines associations between receipt of opioid substitution therapy (OST) and risk of death in prison and has demonstrated a very strong association between receipt of OST and reduced mortality hazard while incarcerated. Therefore, ensuring a high coverage of OST in prisons will help to minimize unnatural deaths among opioid - dependent prisoners. Timely access to OST while incarcerated is critical to realizing this benefit.
Dr Larney’s objectives in attending this conference were to develop a strong international profile in her area of research, disseminate her findings to a diverse international audience including influential research leaders and policymakers, and learn from others in her field and establish relationships with the potential to lead to future research.
The international Harm Reduction Conference is the leading international meeting on responses to drug use and related harms. It is attended by scientists and researchers, front-line service providers, policy makers and government representatives, delegates from the World Health Organisation and other United Nationals agencies, as well as representatives from communities affected by drug use.
Dr Larney presented work on the effect of treatment for opioid (i.e. heroin) dependence in prisons on deaths in custody. This research has shown that providing methadone or other forms of opioid substitution therapy in prisons almost eliminates deaths of opioid dependent prisoners.
Dr Larney reported that attending the conference was an excellent opportunity to meet with colleagues, including international collaborators and high-level staff from organisations including the United Nations Office and Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Health Organization and UNAIDS.
She further explained, ‘my presentation was attended by an HIV/AIDS Regional Advisor from UNODC; [who] requested copies of my work to use in training courses on HIV and prisons in South Asia. More generally, the International Harm Reduction Conference provides an avenue for the global harm reduction community to meet and advocate for the human rights of people who use illicit drugs. For example, a motion was unanimously passed supporting the UNODC statement on decriminalisation of drugs. An important session focused on ending the death penalty for drug offences globally. These are critical human rights issues.’
Dr Larney’s presentation highlighted the innovative, world-first research that is undertaken at The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC).
The session in which Dr Larney presented also received some attention on Twitter.
The full paper is published online in the British Medical Journal (open access link).
The conference met all expectations for Dr Larney and she reported, 'The main benefits of this trip included sharing my work with representatives from UNODC, WHO and UNAIDS, learning about new work in my area being undertaken by international colleagues, and opportunities to network with others in the field.'