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Mental health advocates blast prison drug policy

Prison fence. Michigan prisons are trying to save money in prescription drug costs.
Simon Brass
Prison fence. Michigan prisons are trying to save money in prescription drug costs.

A coalition of mental health advocates is calling on the state Department of Corrections to alter its policy of moving as many prisoners as possible from brand-name prescriptions to generic drugs.

The Department says the new policy will save taxpayers’ money without endangering prisoners’ health.

The Mental Health/Justice Coalition says the policy is too sweeping when it comes to inmates with mental illnesses. The Coalition includes inmates’ families, psychiatrists, judges, and attorneys.

Peggy Christian is the mother of an inmate:

"My concern is that he be able to deal with being incarcerated, and to be able to be a model prisoner, and to be able to be released as soon as possible," said Christian.

About one in 10 inmates is on some type of medication to treat a mental illness.

An audit found Michigan spends a lot more than other states on a common brand name prescription instead of a similar generic psychotropic drug.

The new policy calls for re-evaluating every inmate’s medications.

Psychiatrist Oliver Cameron says one rule should be: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

"As long as they are not relapsing, as long as they are stable, as long as it’s working, you shouldn’t fiddle around with it," said Cameron. "There’s no justification for putting that patient at risk of getting sick again, or get sicker than they already are."

Cameron says the group supports using generics when an inmate is newly diagnosed, or on a treatment program that’s not working.

Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan says the policy is supervised by a psychiatrist and a clinical staff. He says it appears to be saving money with no reports of significant negative side effects.

The Department went from spending $1.2 million a month on one psychotropic medication to $800,000 a month.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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