Prescription Drugs in Prison—Watch Out

Handcuffs, Medicine Bottle and Pills Under Spot Light
What we are looking at is a potential storm of inmate addiction, violence, and soaring federal medical costs.
Last month we told you about how under the new healthcare law, many more prisoners will receive powerful psychotropic drugs to treat mental illness—despite the fact that these drugs are linked to addiction, crime, and violent homicidal outbursts. The social consequences of treating inmates with these drugs is frightening.
Earlier, we told you about a new drug called Sovaldi to treat hepatitis C. It can cure up to 80% of hepatitis C cases in as little as twelve weeks—all at the low, low price of $84,000 per course of treatment. Why is the price of this drug so high?
Sovaldi’s $1,000-a-day price tag was a bit of sticker shock for several members of Congress: on March 20, three members of the powerful Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to the CEO of Gilead Sciences demanding an explanation of “the methodology used to establish Sovaldi’s pricing,” particularly since “a breakthrough treatment for hepatitis C could result in significant public health benefits.”
While Gilead has yet to publically respond to the committee, we believe the Sovaldi price-setting equation may be closely linked to America’s burgeoning prison population. Here are a few crucial facts:

Over 50% of those infected with hepatitis C depend on taxpayer-funded healthcare. Across the country’s various prison systems, 13 to 54% of inmates have hepatitis C. 
+ State jails are legally obligated to provide high-quality (and inherently pricy) treatments like Sovaldi to prisoners. 
+ Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states can now shift much of their constitutional burden to provide healthcare to prisoners to federal taxpayers. 
= $1,000-a-day price tag, per inmate, for Hep C treatment.

Quite simply, it seems that Gilead can charge so much because they know that your tax dollars are paying for the healthcare of one of Sovaldi’s biggest target audiences: convicted felons.
Who would have thought that prisons would be the next frontier for Big Pharma profits? Big Pharma clearly has. Once the government has signed on, millions of literally captive customers are assured.
To fully understand Big Pharma’s prison arithmetic, Illinois is one of six states currently signing state prisoners up for Obamacare and ACA-expanded Medicaid. Illinois also happens to be one of the first states to approve Sovaldi for the treatment of its prisoners.
Increased costs aren’t limited to Sovaldi: the overall cost of healthcare for inmates ballooned 52% from 2001 to 2008 (another reason why states are trying to pass the financial hot potato onto the federal government).
Of course, there are a variety of cost-effective natural treatments that could help manage hepatitis C, but none seem to have to potential of Sovaldi to cure it:

  • As noted by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, clinical trials have shown that milk thistle, when compared with placebo, increases hepatitis C survival rates, decreases symptoms, and provides histological improvement (a reduction in tissue inflammation).
  • Licorice root extract has been shown to reduce ALT, an enzyme that is elevated in people with chronic hepatitis, and can help augment the results of interferon treatment.
  • Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, have found that the bioflavonoids catechin, naringenin, and quercetin can act as hepatitis C antivirals.
  • Vitamin D alone can make an enormous difference for the body’s ability to handle any viral infection. But regular vitamin D is natural, and therefore not patentable. So don’t expect Pharma or its partners in government to show any interest. Even if governments allowed the use of supplemental vitamin D-3 in prison, you can be sure the dose would be too low to do any good.

We all need to utilize safe, effective, and economical alternatives to lucrative Big Pharma drugs. We also need to break the government protected monopoly that allows a company to charge $1,000 per pill. But so long as the money keeps flowing back and forth between Pharma and public officials, it will be difficult to rein in the current plague of crony medicine.


  1. Omg…our absurd govt in bed w bog pharma greedy greedy fingers hand outs out outrageous……outragegeoud…..emphasis on rage!!!!! $1,000 a pill!!! When are they going to wake up and nourish the body with nutrients that dont cost much n eat well stop the madness big pharma!!!$

  2. Who would have thought that prisoners could be so profitable for so many? With the highest rates of incarceration in the world, private prisons cash in on every conviction and just love mandatory sentencing. In Egypt, the discounted blockbuster hep C drug will now cost about $900 for a 12-week course of treatment, a fraction of the $84,000 price tag for the same treatment in the United States. And India will soon have a low priced generic version while we get milked in the US. Now it is truly clear that we must wrestle health care from the greedy pharmaceuticals and employ Naturopaths and other natural medicine practitioners to help us with our health problems.

  3. Taxpayors should not have to support expensive Hep C drugs for inmates. When some people that are law abiding can not get the drugs

    1. Some of those Inmates are as innocent as you so why should they not have medical care and the best that money can buy? Do you really think you are s much better than a great portion of the population. God did not put me here to judge or be judged. Are you beyond reproach? Let’s not condemn less we be condemned.

  4. We all know, just as with Medicare and Social Security,Obama Care will have to be tweaked as problem arise. In addition to a flat tax based upon percentage of earned income, so too should State’s be responsible, on a % basis, for a portion of medical care costs for each incarcerated person. And since Corporation’s are enjoying people rights, they too should be paying a flat tax and corporate officers salaraites and retirement packages should cap at a certain percentage.

    1. But this would make too much sense and do away with the theft of taxpayers dollars so that will never fly. Sometimes the crooks in administration outnumber those behind bars.

  5. A very astute analysis! Thanks for your research.
    I would like to add that in addition to facts stated above, which evidence a health care-industrial complex, that we also have a prison-industrial complex operating in full force to jail as many innocent people as possible. The primary targets are poor and minority populations; however, women have been targeted as well (many of whom also fall into the poor category).
    Here’s how it works: Big corporate prison suppliers funnel money (and influence) to police agencies, public attorneys, prosecutors, and judges via public-private partnerships like PORAC (Police Officers’ Research Association of CA) and through campaign contributions. These public officials are thereafter beholden to their benefactors and willingly carry out their agenda — i.e. fill up the prisons until they overflow without regard to guilt or innocence. This has been taken to such an extreme in California that the Supreme Court had to order the state to release some of its prisoners because had violated the Constitution.

    1. I agree completely. Privatization of prisons is all about making money and the “business decisions” made by people with no real knowledge of the corrections system puts both inmates and prison employees at great risk and danger of serious harm. Schools, hospitals and prisons are not places to be run as businesses.

    2. Our justice system is not concerned with guilt or innocence. Prison is big business and lots of green dollars!! Look around at the life style of people in authority running and administrating Prisons. Even proof with photo images cannot keep and innocent person out of Prison when the DA’s office is loaded with lawyers well trained in theatrics (that is a required course in law schools) and DA’s use it. Did you know that the county gets a percentage of all bonds made by the accused? Ask. There is a reason for prison and they are needed but they are misused and many suffer so the money trail can exists.

  6. I read with interest your comment about mental health drugs in prison. I would add a specific caution about benzodiazapine drugs such as zanax, valium, klonopin, and atavan. i have seen first hand the damage these drugs do to frontal cortex reasoning and logic, especialy the ability to reason away anxiety. Mindfulness based stress reduction as taught at UMass would be a better option than many anti anxiety medications, and may actually help inmates make better choices in the future. Thanks for considering my comment, Sarah

    1. Benzodiazepines (valium, Xanax, Ativan) are definitely not “Psychotropic drugs”. The statement that these medications are linked to addiction, crime, and violent homicidal outbursts is an inaccurate statement & I will read the article containing this information to see where this came from. I worked in a detention center with addicts & alcoholics and I am now the clinical supervisor of a county drug court program. Psychotropic drugs are in no way addictive, they are only linked with addiction in that they are helpful in alleviating symptoms such as depression, which can either be a reason that an individual sought drugs or a result of becoming “clean”. It has long been a serious problem that inmates were not treated with these medications. It is nearly impossible to treat an addict with a mental health disorder for their addiction with any success without access to these medications if they are needed. Psychotropic drugs balance the chemistry of natural endorphins (serotonin, dopamine, etc.) in the brain that an addict either did not have a balanced level to begin with or that have been altered due to prolonged drug abuse. If we want to make a real change and keep these people from reoffending and coming back to the corrections system, then we must treat the problem and not simply put a band aid on it. Psychotropic medications are an essential tool in real recovery for many.

  7. There is a much simpler and inexpensive alternative called MMS (Miracle Mineral Solution). It is available on line. Check out Jim Humble and MMS. It has been show to be effective in treating Hep C as well as a lot of other diseases. The cost is $20.00 per year. I would love to see research done comparing the result between these two methods.

  8. When will people wake up and accept that prison is big business. Look at salaries of the administrators and the huge raises in the tens of thousands per year. Propaganda tells us that States and Federal Government pay for Inmates to go to college, not true (relatives and loved ones pay), they also tell us that our tax dollars pay for exercise equipment and sports equipment, not true. Chow halls in prison put out menus but that doesn’t mean that is what prisoners are fed. Where are your tax dollars going? That’s a good question because the medical care is very sub standard and many times Inmates are transported to doctors and never see anyone but a charge is submitted and this is called”diesel therapy” because all the Inmate gets is a miserable ride handcuffed and shackled for hours on end and sometimes these trips last for several days. Diabetics are given same amounts of Insulin without regard to blood glucose levels. Check things out before speaking. Every day Inmates die in prison because of a lack of proper medical care but the medical records always reflect treatment not given.Question you Senators and Representatives and ask where your tax dollars are going but be aware that they are friends with administrators of prisons and Administrators sit on the Boards of accrediting agencies and that is how they pass standards. Wake up America and see that we have no right to critized other countries for human rights violations when we should be cleaning around our own back doors.

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