Preventing relapse in incarcerated drug users in Yunnan Province, China


Wei Xing Zhu MD, MHA, Professor, Jia Qiang Dong MD, Project Manager, Therese Hesketh MRCPCH, FFPH, PhD, Clinical Senior Lecturer. Dr Therese Hesketh, UCL Centre for International Health and Development, 30 Guilford Street, London WC1 N1EH, UK. Tel: +0207 905 2253; Fax: +0207 404 2062; E-mail:


Introduction and Aims. The mainstay of drug control in China is compulsory incarceration and detoxification, but relapse rates following release are very high. The aim of the study was to explore factors which would help prevent relapse in injecting drug users following release from detoxification centres. Design and Methods. Semi-structured interviews were carried out at three compulsory detoxification centres in Derhong prefecture, Yunnan Province, which has the highest proportion of injecting drug users in China. Results. Interviews were completed with 235 men and 125 women aged between 15 and 64 years. They had been injecting heroine for between 3 months and 25 years; the median number of times of previous compulsory detoxification was four, with 11% having undergone this more than 10 times. All but six wanted to quit permanently, but almost all acknowledged that relapse on release was almost inevitable. The month immediately following release was identified as most vulnerable time for relapse. Respondents identified three measures which would help decrease the rate of relapse. First, the environment of the detoxification centres should emphasise support and counselling rather than punishment. Second, families should be provided with support to help the user immediately after release. Third, arrangements could be made to help those individuals who request relocation, to find work elsewhere away from accustomed drug-using social networks. Discussion and Conclusions. While a combination of these measures could help in some way to reduce rates of relapse following detention, given the failure of the detoxification/detention regimes to reduce drug use, consideration must be given to other approaches.[Zhu WX, Dong JQ, Hesketh T. Preventing relapse in incarcerated drug users in Yunnan Province, China. Drug Alcohol Rev 2009]