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Use of prescribed smoking cessation pharmacotherapy following release from prison: a prospective data linkage study


Background A significant proportion of people who cycle through prisons express a desire to quit smoking, yet smoking rates in this population are two to four times higher than in the general community. Smoking cessation pharmacotherapy (SCP) is an important component of evidence-based cessation support, yet no studies have examined use of this pharmacotherapy after release from prison.

Methods We linked data from a survey of 971 smokers who were within 8 weeks of release from prison in Queensland, Australia, with federal Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) records for the 2 years after release, to identify subsidised use of SCP (varenicline, bupropion and nicotine patches). We used Cox proportional hazards regression to identify independent predictors of SCP use.

Findings According to PBS data, 86 participants (8.9%) accessed SCP in the 2 years following release from prison. Participants who were aged 25 years or older (HR 2.51, 95% CI 1.19 to 5.31), employed before prison (HR 1.93, 95% CI 1.14 to 3.28), highly nicotine dependent at baseline (HR 2.21, 95% CI 1.23 to 3.97) and using non-psychotropic medications in prison (HR 2.29, 95% CI 1.24 to 4.22) were more likely to use subsidised SCP during follow-up.

Conclusion Despite a very high rate of tobacco use among people cycling through prisons and the very low cost of (subsidised) SCP in Australia, few ex-prisoners obtain pharmaceutical assistance with quitting smoking. Policy attention needs to focus on supporting former prisoners to access SCP, to reduce the high rate of tobacco-related morbidity and mortality in this profoundly marginalised population.

  • Cessation
  • Nicotine
  • Priority/special Populations
  • Primary Health Care

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