Preventing overdose deaths among people recently released from a correctional facility

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 61, No. 2, March 2019, Pages 88-90 News

A new project aimed at supporting people transitioning back to their communities when they are released from a correctional facility could prevent overdoses and help clients get on a healthier path.

Roughly two-thirds of British Columbians who died of an illegal drug overdose between 1 January 2016 and 31 July 2017 had recent contact with the criminal justice system, according to a death review panel report[1] released by the BC Coroners Service in 2018. Of those, 10% (333 people) died within their first month of release from a correctional facility.

Five new community transition teams stationed throughout BC aim to address this problem by helping people with opioid-use disorders access treatment in their communities after release from a corrections facility.

The teams are currently stationed in Surrey, Prince George, Kamloops, Nanaimo, and Port Coquitlam. Each consists of a social worker and a peer—a person with lived experience with drugs, the correctional system, or both. The teams will work with clients for approximately 30 days following their release to connect with a community physician, fill prescriptions, and access other recovery supports.

Recently incarcerated clients at greater risk of overdose

Dr Nader Sharifi, medical director for Correctional Health Services and addictions lead for BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, reports that currently about 40% of people in corrections facilities receive opioid agonist treatment, which includes medications such as Suboxone and methadone to treat opioid use disorder. He says people are at heightened risk when they leave corrections and no longer have access to the facility’s physician. Additional risk factors include lowered tolerance and the trauma associated with release.

Role of peers in recovery is vital

Andrew MacFarlane, provincial executive director for Correctional Health Services, has spent 20 years working with people with mental health and substance use issues, and the last 5 working with people on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. MacFarlane and his team designed the community transition team project after consulting with regional health authorities and the First Nations Health Authority, and analyzing other evidence-based models across Canada.

The community transition team peers have been chosen strategically—they work with community organizations throughout the province that will keep helping clients after the short-term work with community transition teams concludes. The teams began connecting with their first clients in January. The Provincial Health Services Authority hopes to scale the project up next year based on results. A short video about the community transition teams is available at


1.    BC Coroners Service death review panel: A review of illicit drug overdoses. 5 April 2018. Accessed 31 January 2019.

. Preventing overdose deaths among people recently released from a correctional facility. BCMJ, Vol. 61, No. 2, March, 2019, Page(s) 88-90 - News.

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