Poots warning on jail drugs levels
Four out of five prisoners in Northern Ireland's high-security jail are on prescription drugs, the Assembly has been told.
Health minister Edwin Poots said 80% of those incarcerated in HMP Maghaberry near Lisburn were on medication.
Of those held at the medium to low security prison at Magilligan, Co Londonderry, 58% are on prescribed drugs while at the young offenders' centre and women's prison at Hydebank Wood in south Belfast the rate is 38%.
Mr Poots said that left the overall rate of prescription medicine use across the region's prison population at 67%.
He added: "I have to say I am shocked by these figures and I welcome the fact that it has been brought to our attention, and I certainly will be asking questions as to whether this high level of prescribing drugs to people who are in prison is necessary or whether it's suitable, because prisoners are calmer as a result of it?"
The issue was raised by Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney, who urged the minister to ensure robust monitoring of the situation was implemented and that drugs were administered as a last resort, not a first.
The minister admitted action was needed.
He said: "Prisons in my view, Mr Deputy Speaker, are reform institutes and if people are coming out of prison having received large quantities of prescription drugs, as opposed to overcoming their problems, then I think there is some degree of failing on that part."
The minister also claimed prisoners were, in general, in poorer health than the rest of the population while figures showed that 90% of inmates either had a diagnosable mental health issue or substance misuse problem.
"That would give you an indication, if 90% of prisoners do have mental health issues or already have a substance abuse issue, as to why we are ending up with the figures (on prescription drugs) we have," he said.