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Canada’s Correctional Investigator examines prescription practices in prisons

May 8, 2014

A joint investigation between CBC News and the Canadian Press revealed that Canadian prisons are prescribing and using powerful medications in order to “sedate” and manage inmates. This was especially true for female inmates, where 63 percent of them were prescribed psychotropic medications or medications that affect one’s mental state in 2013. This is a significant increase from over a decade ago when the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) showed that just 42 percent of female inmates were prescribed these medications.

One example of such a medication is quetiapine which goes by Seroquel under the brand name and is approved to treat bipolar disorders and schizophrenia.This medication is known as the ”sleeping pill” in the prison system according to a former female inmate and if used indiscriminately, “it can kill people” says Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. These anti-psychotic medications have side effects and even when used properly can have serious consequences. In a 2011 memo obtained by the media, the CSC states that quetiapine should only be used as it was licensed – for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. However, the extent to which this directive is being followed is unclear. In the United States, this drug has been banned within the prison system in several states.

As a result of this over-prescribing trend, Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada has launched a probe into the prescription practices in Canadian penitentiaries. Although, it is possible that this increase in prescriptions reflects the increase of offenders with mental health issues in prisons, another explanation is that drugs are being used inappropriately. “It’s probably not the result of just overprescribing,” said Sapers. He also expressed concern over the off-label use of these medications and hopes to ensure that CSC has a process in place that controls and prohibits improper use.

For more information and the history of this issue, read the CBC article online.

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