Corrections’ discouraged medication policy amounts to phamacological torture

On Tuesday, 1st October 2013, Geoff Robinson (photo) interviewed  Roger Brooking on Morning Report about the Corrections Departments Medicine Policy. It runs for 4.30 minutes. This is the full transcript of the interview:

Geoff RobinsonGeoff Robinson: Some doctors are calling for a major review of the way prisoners’ health is managed.  Dr Wayne Cunningham, a former Otago prison doctor says the emphasis on security over health when he worked at the prison meant it didn’t work well.  And he says it was a miracle no one died on his watch.  Last week, Radio New Zealand revealed that the police are investigating accusations that a prisoner received substandard care at the Otago prison before he died in February 2011 and they’re reviewing another patient’s suicide four months earlier.  Those investigations are underway after a complaint from a Wellington drug and alcohol counsellor, Roger Brooking, and he joins us now.

So this suggestion from Dr Wayne Cunningham that there should that there should be a review of the whole health needs of prisoners and how they dealt with, would you agree with that?

Roger Brooking: I absolutely would.  The Corrections Department has a number of policies and practices which make it very hard for doctors and nurses in the prison system to provide what I would call proper or equivalent health care (to that which is available in the community).  One of the policies that the Department has is the Medicines Policy.  It has a particular section, 6.1, which I refer to as the “discouraged medication policy”.  Basically what that says is that prison doctors are “actively discouraged” from prescribing benzodiazepines, opiate painkillers, and any other medication which may be tradable or have currency in the prison environment.

Geoff Robinson: these are medications which are normally provided to patients by the health service throughout the country but doctors in prison are actively discouraged from prescribing them?

Roger Brooking: That’s right.  And this has significant impacts on the prisoners.  There are violent incidents in prison;  prisoners like anyone else get sick; occasionally they have to go to emergency departments – the policy even extends to the point that doctors in hospital emergency departments are discouraged from prescribing opiates to a patient, a prisoner, who may have broken his leg or been stabbed or whatever it is.  To me, I regard this as a kind of enhanced pharmacological torture.

Geoff Robinson: Is it a question then of whether the prisoner or the patient has the drugs in his or her possession and is able to take them as appropriate and may possibly try and trade them to some other prisoner – or is it something that the prison authorities could hand out as necessary?

Pill in mouth

Roger Brooking: Well, that’s exactly how they do it.  They don’t give the prisoner a handful of pills or a bottle or a little box like you would get in the community; in the prison environment, especially for medications like opiates, those are dispensed in my understanding on a daily basis. The prisoner has to go to the prison health centre and the nurse would give him the pill and he has to swallow it in front of the nurse. And so I don’t see that there’s too much of a problem there.

Geoff Robinson: And so you believe therefore that prison doctors should not be actively discouraged from prescribing them because there’s enough safeguards in the system to prevent them being traded?

Roger Brooking: Yes.  And I would also add that this policy encourages prison doctors to actually breach their medical ethics.  Because prison doctors, like any other doctor, his first priority is to provide a duty of care to the patient.  Now if the doctor basically gives in to this ‘discouraged medication policy’ and doesn’t give the prisoner medication which is clinically appropriate in that particular situation, then he is breaching his medical ethics – and could be struck off.

Geoff Robinson: So the doctor is paid by the Corrections Department to provide care to the prisoner?

Roger Brooking: Yes.

Geoff Robinson: And the doctor’s first responsibility is to the patient, the prisoner, rather than the person who’s paying him?

Roger Brooking: Under his medical ethics, yes, his responsibility is to the patient.  But what appears to happen is that in the prison environment, because doctors and nurses are contracted to the Corrections Department that interferes with the patient doctor relationship.  And in many cases from my experience, many doctors find this very difficult.  I think it is a difficult situation for them because they’re caught between a rock and a hard place and it depends on the integrity of the doctor.  Some doctors will put the patient first; some doctors will put the prison policies first.

Geoff Robinson: Thank you for joining us. That’s Roger Brooking. He’s a Wellington drug and alcohol counsellor.

2 thoughts on “Corrections’ discouraged medication policy amounts to phamacological torture

  1. Its a little ironic to have such a hardline on legal drugs when illegal drug use appear to be sanctioned by the blind eye or ignorance as it keeps the unofficial hierarchy in place enabling those in power (management) to deal directly with the one who holds such influence by way of drug supply. I know of incidences when prisoners have been given special treatment and moved around due to their ability to keep things good amongst the other prisoners. Is this relatively unusual ? I hope so but fear it is not.

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    1. I think Corrections is now pretty tough on illegal drugs as well. They conduct random drug testing and over the years, the number of prisoners testing positive has dropped dramatically. Positive drug tests mean prisoners are unlikely to get parole – so there’s big incentives not to use in prison.

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