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Sunday, December 24th 2006

Drugs Land You In A Bad Health Plan

LA County prisons provide terrible medical attention. Who would’ve thought?

Broken bones have gone untreated. Illnesses have been overlooked. Inmates have waited days, or weeks, for exams they’re supposed to receive within 24 hours of making a request. Twenty percent of inmates who ask to see a doctor are released from jail without ever being examined, officials acknowledge.

In a confidential report, a consultant said an additional 720 jail medical workers were needed to meet minimum state treatment standards. At the time, the work force stood at about 980.

The best part? The true compassion and driven vision prison staff have for their job. “We’re trying to reform these individuals and make them future productive members of society…” Wait, that’s not what they said,

“We face unique challenges, and we do the best we can,” Smith said. “These are difficult, angry, messed-up people. We try to treat people with the respect, not that they necessarily deserve, but that human decency demands.”

The stories are more than Lt. Smith would have you believe. Huntington’s is a terrible disease. Imagine not getting treated for it for months.

Another woman complained that she had gone 11 days without her medication for Huntington’s disease, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary muscle movement.

“My motor control is going; my speech and memory are disintegrating daily,” she wrote in September 2001. “Help me!”

The complaint form indicates that the woman told medical workers about her condition at the Inmate Reception Center in the Twin Towers complex on Sept. 7 and was prescribed Motrin. For the two weeks that she remained in custody, she was given no follow-up care, sheriff’s documents show.

And of course, while not all malpractice can be avoided (especially in a setting like prison), a death like this is completely, utterly unacceptable.

Woods, 55, entered the jail in September 1999 to serve time for drunk driving. He had told authorities he had diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, for which he was taking Pindolol.

He brought his medications with him. But in keeping with jail policy, they were taken away to be stored and returned upon his release — medications for inmates are supplied by the jail pharmacy.

Policy requires that inmates 55 or older be given an enhanced medical screening, including chest X-rays, lab tests and an electrocardiogram. When Woods was seen by a nurse at the Inmate Reception Center, the nurse erred by indicating on a form that he was not 55 or older.

Then came a second mistake: The nurse did not document that Woods had been taking Pindolol. Suddenly stopping the drug can trigger a heart attack. When the doctor briefly examined Woods a couple of hours later, jail records note, the inmate’s blood pressure was “dangerously high.” The doctor ordered that it be checked daily.

The moral of the story is don’t stop taking your beta blockers suddenly. I mean, it is that the prison system needs a more competent staff and medical records system. And the pharmacy probably just needs to make the second stop for inmates being processed for the replacement drugs they just handed over.

Of course no one wants to work in jails, and inmates don’t vote so they don’t get the money, and the state is probably enjoys some protection from lawsuits related to these missteps. So, to imagine change in the system itself is foolish. What we need to be doing is keeping the prison population down. How? Well by making personal use, non-violent drug offenses no offenses at all.

I never understood why people think the personal health choices of others is their responsibility. And that is all the illegality of street drugs are even semi-effective at doing. You want to know why drugs increase crime? Because they’re illegal.

You think if you legalize hard drugs the numbers of TVs stolen in your neighborhood will actually increase? Please.

You think more people will get shot in drug deals? Whoops, those wouldn’t exist anymore.

Even from the health aspect, which personally shouldn’t even be taken into consideration (because it is none of anyone else’s or the government’s business what you do with your body), you think more people would have OD symptoms from laced drugs? Whoops, the drugs would be cleaner.

This country imprisons more of its populace than any other place on earth. More than Russia, more than any repressive regime in Africa, more than China; certainly more than any western nation. And it is all tied to our tough “war on drugs.” Imprisoning so many people on “personal issues” causes massive social problems, beyond just being a ridiculous violation of basic decency and human privacy.