Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
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Prescription drugs with potential for misuse in Irish prisons: analysis of national prison prescribing trends, by gender and history of opioid use disorder, 2012 to 2020

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-11-17, 11:19 authored by Louise DurandLouise Durand, Eamon Keenan, Deirdre O’Reilly, Kathleen BennettKathleen Bennett, Andy O’Hara, Grainne CousinsGrainne Cousins

Background: Pharmacotherapy is essential for the delivery of an equivalent standard of care in prison. Prescribing can be challenging due to the complex health needs of prisoners and the risk of misuse of prescription drugs. This study examines prescribing trends for drugs with potential for misuse (opioids, benzodiazepines, Z-drugs, and gabapentinoids) in Irish prisons and whether trends vary by gender and history of opioid use disorder (OUD).

Methods: A repeated cross-sectional study between 2012 and 2020 using electronic prescribing records from the Irish Prison Services, covering all prisons in the Republic of Ireland was carried out. Prescribing rates per 1,000 prison population were calculated. Negative binomial (presenting adjusted rate ratios (ARR) per year and 95% confidence intervals) and joinpoint regressions were used to estimate time trends adjusting for gender, and for gender specific analyses of prescribing trends over time by history of OUD.

Results: A total of 10,371 individuals were prescribed opioid agonist treatment (OAT), opioids, benzodiazepines, Z-drugs or gabapentinoids during study period. History of OUD was higher in women, with a median rate of 597 per 1,000 female prisoners, compared to 161 per 1,000 male prisoners. Prescribing time trends, adjusted for gender, showed prescribing rates decreased over time for prescription opioids (ARR 0.82, 95% CI 0.80-0.85), benzodiazepines (ARR 0.99, 95% CI 0.98-0.999), Z-drugs (ARR 0.90, 95% CI 0.88-0.92), but increased for gabapentinoids (ARR 1.07, 95% CI 1.05-1.08). However, prescribing rates declined for each drug class between 2019 and 2020. Women were significantly more likely to be prescribed benzodiazepines, Z-drugs and gabapentinoids relative to men. Gender-specific analyses found that men with OUD, relative to men without, were more likely to be prescribed benzodiazepines (ARR 1.49, 95% CI 1.41-1.58), Z-drugs (ARR 10.09, 95% CI 9.0-11.31), gabapentinoids (ARR 2.81, 95% CI 2.66-2.97). For women, history of OUD was associated with reduced gabapentinoid prescribing (ARR 0.33, 95% CI 0.28-0.39).

Conclusions: While the observed reductions in prescription opioid, benzodiazepine and Z-drug prescribing is consistent with guidance for safe prescribing in prisons, the increase in gabapentinoid (primarily pregabalin) prescribing and the high level of prescribing to women is concerning. Our findings suggest targeted interventions may be needed to address prescribing in women, and men with a history of OUD.


Health Research Board under the Secondary Data Analysis Projects SDAP-2021-009



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Published Citation

Durand L. et al. Prescription drugs with potential for misuse in Irish prisons: analysis of national prison prescribing trends, by gender and history of opioid use disorder, 2012 to 2020. BMC Psychiatry. 2023;23(1):725

Publication Date

6 October 2023

PubMed ID



  • Data Science Centre
  • School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences

Research Area

  • Population Health and Health Services


BioMed Central


  • Published Version (Version of Record)