Community reentry challenges after release from prison among people who inject drugs in St. Petersburg, Russia

Javier A. Cepeda, Marina V. Vetrova, Alexandra I. Lyubimova, Olga S. Levina, Robert Heimer, Linda M. Niccolai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose - Little is known about the context of the post-release risk environment among formerly incarcerated people who inject drugs (PWID) in Russia. The purpose of this paper is to explore these challenges as they relate to reentry, relapse to injection opioid use, and overdose. Design/methodology/approach - The authors conducted 25 in-depth semi-structured interviews among PWID living in St Petersburg, Russia who had been incarcerated within the past two years. Participants were recruited from street outreach (n=20) and a drug treatment center (n=5). Findings - Emergent themes related to the post-release environment included financial instability, negative interactions with police, return to a drug using community, and reuniting with drug using peers. Many respondents relapsed to opioid use immediately after release. Those whose relapse occurred weeks or months after their release expressed more motivation to resist. Alcohol or stimulant use often preceded the opioid relapse episode. Among those who overdosed, alcohol use was often reported prior to overdosing on opioids. Practical implications - Future post-release interventions in Russia should effectively link PWID to social, medical, and harm reduction services. Particular attention should be focussed on helping former inmates find employment and overdose prevention training prior to leaving prison that should also cover the heightened risk of concomitant alcohol use. Originality/value - In addition to describing a syndemic involving the intersection of incarceration, injection drug use, poverty, and alcohol abuse, the findings can inform future interventions to address these interrelated public health challenges within the Russian setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-192
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Prisoner Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 21 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Incarceration
  • Injection drugs
  • Opioid
  • Overdose
  • Relapse
  • Risk environment
  • Russia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Professions (miscellaneous)


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