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Prescription drug abuse spreading through UK prisons

By News team

Abuse of prescription drugs is spreading through the prison system, according to the chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick. Speaking to The Times newspaper last week, he admitted: “There is a growing problem with prescription drugs being abused.”

His comments follow the recent publication of two prison inspection reports, which confirmed the abuse of prescription medicines and highlighted poor prescribing practices and unsatisfactory pharmacy services.

Inmates are either having their prescribed drugs stolen from them by other inmates or being bullied into requesting prescription drugs they do not need and then passing them on.

“We thought it was a problem in the high-security estate and among vulnerable prisoners. It is spreading through the prison system. There is no doubt about that,” said Mr Hardwick.

An April 2012 inspection report for HMP Wolds in East Yorkshire — which is run by private security company G4S — said the prison’s pharmacy was “unsatisfactory as a supply-only service”. The report notes: “There was lack of policies, evidence of secondary dispensing and some evening medications were given too early. We saw opportunities for medication diversion at treatment times.” A survey of HMP Wolds inmates revealed that one in 10 had developed a problem with diverted drugs.

A March 2012 inspection report for Nottinghamshire’s HMP Ranby, where the pharmacy services are provided by Lloydspharmacy, described the prison’s prescribing practices as “weak” and part of “very poor healthcare”. One in 10 inmates said they had developed a problem with diverted medication since being in the prison.

“Almost a third of prisoners were on potentially abusable medication, which they were given . . . but had nowhere to store safely, so there were many opportunities for diversion and theft,” the report says.

Pharmacists will input into commissioning

However, the inspections occurred just five months after the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Secure Environment Pharmacists Group published the first ever prison prescribing guide (PJ 2011;287:562), which stresses the potential for drugs misuse in prisons and the risk of medicines being used as a currency among inmates.

Chairman of the group and head of pharmacy at HMP Bristol Cathy Cooke said that Ranby and Wolds are both category C training prisons, which means prisoners will usually hold and administer their own medication as part of the rehabilitation process.

She said: “This category of prison usually does not have 24-hour, seven-days-a-week healthcare cover, so supervised administration of medication can be a problem.”

The SEPG recently obtained and assurance from the Department of Health’s Offendor Health Division that expert pharmacist input will be sought to inform the commissioning of prison healthcare services, Mrs Cooke said.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11105752

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