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austerity impact

Mentally ill prison inmates denied drugs, say prison medics

Interior Ministry cutbacks mean doctors must seek approval for treatment, despite 45-percent rate of illness among convicts

Prison doctors say that mentally ill prison inmates are being denied one of the most commonly used medications because of budget cuts to the penitentiary health system. Since March 26, physicians can no longer prescribe pregabalin without special permission. This drug is commonly used to treat anxiety disorders caused by conditions such as drug addiction.

Now, doctors are sending in their written requests to the secretary general of Penitentiary Institutions, but "90 percent of requests are being denied," according to the Spanish Society for Penitentiary Health.

Over 45 percent of the 75,000 inmates serving time in Spanish prisons suffer from some form of mental illness, according to a 2011 joint report by this group and the Spanish Association of Neuropsychiatry. This study states that the most common condition is caused by drug use (76.2 percent), followed by general anxiety disorder (45.3 percent). In both cases, treatment with pregabalin is often "the one that guarantees the best results by far," says Antonio López Burgos, president of the Spanish Society of Penitentiary Medicine.

The price of the treatment is around one euro a day per inmate, and until now doctors were prescribing it to hundreds of patients with epilepsy, neuropathic pain or general anxiety disorder. It is this last condition that the government is refusing to treat with pregabalin "in the vast majority of cases" ever since the Interior Ministry imposed the need for special permission.

A spokesman for Penitentiary Institutions said the same procedure is used for many drugs in most regions, and that it is part of a drive to cut annual medication costs in excess of 35 million euros. "The goal is for everyone who needs medication to get it, but for those who don't need it not to get it."