Ireland: €3.7m spent on medicine for prison inmates over the last two years

More than €3.7m has been spent by the Irish Prison Service on medications for inmates over the past two years.

The bill at a single prison can be in excess of €50,000 a month, according to the data, with costs highest at the Midlands Prison in Co Laois.

The Irish Prison Service said many of those sent to jail brought with them complex and often multiple different health problems.

Those in custody have, on average, a health status of somebody 10 years older living in the community, while the average age of prisoners is also rising, they said.

Detailed figures show €1.93m was spent on medication in jails during 2019 with a further €1.8m spent in the first eleven months of last year.

The cost at the Midlands Prison between January and November last year was €495,479. The monthly bill at the 870-capacity jail is about €45,000 and, in September 2020, exceeded €50,000.

The bill at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin came to €324,849 in 2020, or the equivalent of €29,531 a month.

At high-security Portlaoise Prison, the medicine bill was €79,535 in the first 11 months of last year, or an average of about €7,230 monthly.

Arbour Hill – which is home to many of Ireland’s most notorious sex offenders – incurred costs of €107,233, or €9,748 a month.

Costs also exceeded €100,000 at the Dóchas Women’s Prison, where the monthly bill was in the region of €9,692.

The bill at Cork Prison was €91,361 last year and €126,479 in 2019, according to the data.

The lowest medicine bill was at low-security Loughan House, where €19,195 was spent last year, with the amount paid out sometimes less than €1,000 a month.

The Prison Service said it was not possible to provide details on the most commonly prescribed medications distributed to those in custody.

However, it is known that chunks of the bill relate to the provision of methadone as part of drug treatment services as well as filling prescriptions for mental health issues.

Rates of infectious disease, including HIV, are also much more common among the prison population than in the community.

The Irish Prison Service said pharmacy services were provided following a competitive tender with a number of companies around Ireland providing medications.

A spokesman said: “Prisons are recognised to house some of the most marginalised groups of individuals in society and persons in custody have a higher burden of conditions such as illicit drug dependence, mental ill health and infectious diseases”.

“The use of medicines is a key element of the provision of necessary care and treatment to the prison population to seek to address the many complex health problems experience by those in custody.”

He said prisons dealt with all sorts of health problems, including drug dependency, mental illness, HIV/Aids, Hepatitis A, B, and C, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases.

The spokesman said there was also an ageing prison population with high rates of chronic illness.

“Older prisoners, as in the general population, have higher rates of chronic health condition – geriatric syndromes, such as cognitive impairment or dementia, and disabilities, compared with younger prisoners,” he said.