Majority Of Drugs Prescribed To Inmates In South Dakota Are For Mental Illness

By Keri Blakinger 12/08/15

The percentage of inmates with mental illness is high everywhere, not just South Dakota.

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The majority of drugs prescribed in South Dakota prisons are for mental illness, according to records compiled by The Argus Leader.

Despite that, the state’s Department of Corrections doesn’t have any psychiatric staff, they’re all hired through the Department of Social Services.
Meds are tracked by the state’s health department, which compiled a list of the most frequently prescribed drugs.

Prozac topped the list for 2014, with inmates taking nearly 40,000 doses over the course of 2014. In total, around 151,000 doses of antidepressants were prescribed, including everything from Prozac to Zoloft to Effexor.

Around 236,000 doses of drugs for bipolar disorder were doled out over the year, although some of the other most-prescribed drugs were for medical conditions like high blood pressure, nerve pain, arthritis, and allergies.

Those figures stand in stark contrast to prescribing habits outside prison walls. Outside of prison, thyroid, cholesterol, and diabetes meds are among the most-prescribed drugs, and only one of the top ten is a mental health medication, used for ADHD.

The number of prisoners on mental health meds is indicative of a larger issue with the justice system, according to some experts.

“Far too many people are getting sent to prison because they didn’t get good mental health services outside the walls,” Phyllis Arends, director of the Sioux Falls chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the South Dakota paper. “If we had better services outside the prison, we wouldn’t have to spend so much on prescriptions.”

Although the Leader only compiled data for the Mount Rushmore State, the percent of inmates with mental health issues is consistently high across the nation; this isn’t a problem that’s unique to South Dakota.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 64% of local jail inmates, 56% of state prisoners, and 45% of federal prisoners have symptoms of major mental illness.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.