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The transition from prison back into the community is particularly hazardous for drug-using offenders whose tolerance for heroin has been reduced by imprisonment. Studies have indicated an increased risk of drug-related death soon after release from prison, particularly in the first 2 weeks. For precise, up-to-date understanding of these risks, a meta-analysis was conducted on the risk of drug-related death in weeks 1 + 2 and 3 + 4 compared with later 2-week periods in the first 12 weeks after release from prison.English-language studies were identified that followed up adult prisoners for mortality from time of index release for at least 12 weeks. Six studies from six prison systems met the inclusion criteria and relevant data were extracted independently.These studies contributed a total of 69 093 person-years and 1033 deaths in the first 12 weeks after release, of which 612 were drug-related. A three- to eightfold increased risk of drug-related death was found when comparing weeks 1 + 2 with weeks 3–12, with notable heterogeneity between countries: United Kingdom, 7.5 (95% CI: 5.7–9.9); Australia, 4.0 (95% CI: 3.4–4.8); Washington State, USA, 8.4 (95% CI: 5.0–14.2) and New Mexico State, USA, 3.1 (95% CI: 1.3–7.1). Comparing weeks 3 + 4 with weeks 5–12, the pooled relative risk was: 1.7 (95% CI: 1.3–2.2).These findings confirm that there is an increased risk of drug-related death during the first 2 weeks after release from prison and that the risk remains elevated up to at least the fourth week.