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Voice: Inmates loading up on freebies at prison medical clinics

March 08, 2001

The California Department of Corrections continues to waste money on its inmates. A January 2000 report indicated the state medical cost for inmates was 14 percent higher than the national average. This is in part due to the fact the department is paying an excessive amount for pharmaceuticals.

The department has implemented one program that was designed to reduce unnecessary patient visits. Five years ago it began collecting $5 co-payments from inmates to curtail unnecessary visits to the doctor. However this has not been enforced. The majority of inmates are not being charged this $5, and when they are charged they usually walk out of the clinic with about $50 of over-the-counter medications.

This program implemented to curtail unnecessary visits to the doctor needs to be expanded. An inmate will often complain of a illness but when seen by the doctor he will give several issues for the doctor to treat, like dry skin, acne, dandruff, athlete's feet, headache, etc. The doctor will then load the inmate up with free medication, skin lotions, shampoo, beauty bars, acne cream, aspirin, Motrin, suntan lotion, foot powder. Once an inmate receives all of this he can typically return every three months, and receive another three-month supply.

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All of these medications can be purchased by the inmate at the canteen, but it's much cheaper for them to pay the $5 for the doctor and then get the medications free. However, if the inmates were to be charged for over-the-counter medications they received, they would only seek out the treatments that they truly need.

We understand that all inmates may not have money, and in this situation all medication deemed medically necessary by the doctor should be provided at no cost. If we can't give free medications to our senior citizens, why should we give it to the convicted felons in California?

KEVIN THOMPSON

San Diego

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