People in prison generally have poor health and complex health needs, reflected in the number and types of medications they take. These medications can differ from those taken in the general community, particularly medications for mental health problems, addictions and chronic conditions – areas in which people in prison are known to have poorer health than the general community (AIHW 2016).

Certain aspects of the prison environment may influence prescribing practices. Prisoners have limited access to over-the-counter medications, and are usually not allowed to keep medications in their possession; hence, some medications that may be purchased without prescription in the community are likely to be prescribed in prison.

The choice of prescribed medications may be influenced by security considerations, such as the daily prison schedule, and the ‘direct administration’ of medications whereby prisoners are provided with, and take, medications under supervision. As in the general community, some medications – such as antipsychotics and benzodiazepines – are considered to be ‘tradeable’, and the prescription, possession and taking of these medications are closely monitored (AIHW 2016).

Medications are an important element in treating many physical and mental health conditions. This section presents data on medications dispensed in custody, including opioid substitution therapy, mental health medication, hepatitis C treatment, and intentions to continue taking medications after release.