Pain killer and antipsychotic medication use high among prisoners—particularly females

Australian prisoners are taking more medications for chronic diseases and mental health conditions than their age-related cohort in the general community, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Medication use by Australia's prisoners 2015: how is it different from the general community, shows that about half of all prisoners are taking medications of some kind, with many prisoners having complex health conditions, at times complicated by histories of trauma combined with underlying chronic and mental health conditions.

'Prisoners are largely considered to be in poorer health than the general community, and this is reflected by the types and quantities of medications taken,' said AIHW spokesperson Mr Mark Cooper-Stanbury.

'Prisoners are nine times as likely as the general community to take antipsychotics, four times as likely to take medications used to treat addictive disorders, and more than twice as likely to take antidepressants or mood stabilisers.'

Among prisoners aged 20–59, 17% were taking analgesics (pain killers) compared with 13% of those in the general community.

Among female prisoners, 26% took analgesics and 13% took antipsychotic medication, compared with 14% and 1% respectively in the general community.  

Smaller differences were shown for the male prison population, with 16% taking analgesics and 8% taking antipsychotic medication compared with 12% and 1% respectively in the general community,

'Compared with the general community, prisoners also started taking medications for chronic conditions at younger ages,' said Mr Cooper-Stanbury.

The report shows that by age 30–39, prisoners were more likely to be taking medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and asthma than their non-prisoner counterparts, and by age 40–49 they are more likely to be taking anti-inflammatories.

The reasons for the difference in medications prescribed between Australia's prisoners and the general community are complex. For example, prisoners are not allowed to keep medications in their possession for security reasons, and medications are usually given at certain times of the day which might not suit all medication regimes.

Prisoners do not have easy access to over-the-counter vitamin purchases and they are mostly prescribed within the prison system. About 40% of the general community aged 20–59 take vitamins, compared with only 4% of the prison population.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 10 June 2016 

Further information: Mark Cooper-Stanbury, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1251, mob. 0418 271 395