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Why creative uses of antibiotic ointments can be dangerous

A recent study raises concern over the inappropriate use of antibiotic ointments by a growing number of prisoners

Inmates find creative uses for so many items in the prison economy. Medical supplies and treatments are no exception. A recent C1 post on medical contraband suggests some alternative uses inmates have devised for a variety of medical products.

Now, a research study conducted in the New York prison system raises concern over the inappropriate use of antibiotic ointments by a growing number of prisoners. The study found that a significant percentage of male and female inmates were using antibiotic ointments (such as Bacitracin or Neosporin) as a skin moisturizer, shaving cream or hair gel.

When asked why the ointment was used in this way, the common response was that it was available. In fact, inmates can often obtain antibiotic ointment from the medical unit for minor conditions without cost, while needing to purchase personal grooming items from the commissary.

This deviant use of antibiotic ointment may seem relatively minor and even comical at first glance. However, over time, misuse of antibiotics can lead to increase antibiotic resistance for some pretty nasty bacterial infections such as MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).

MRSA is a pernicious bacteria invading many facilities with only a few treatment options remaining due to it’s resistance to the effects of a wide range of antibiotics. Small doses of antibiotics in the environment, over time, assist bacteria like MRSA in developing resistance to treatments.

The medical community is studying the link between antibiotic ointment use and development of drug resistant bacterial strains.

In the meantime, protect yourself and your inmate population from this concern by reducing the availability and misuse of antibiotic ointments.

Correctional healthcare infection control nurses advocate reducing the use of antibiotic ointments. Sue Lane, Infection Control Coordinator for Broward County Detention Centers in Fort Lauderdale, FL, recommends limiting antibiotic ointments to physician order, only, even though it is an over-the-counter item for the general public. In addition, minimum doses of these treatments should be dispensed, rather than full tubes. Listen to a recent podcast containing information on this infection control issue and others in the corrections community.

Has your facility changed the way antibiotic ointments are provided to inmates? Share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

Dr. Schoenly has been a nurse for 30 years and is currently specializing in correctional healthcare. She is an author and educator seeking to improve patient safety and professional nursing practice behind bars. Her web-presence, Correctional Nurse, provides information and support to those working in correctional health care. Her books, Essentials of Correctional Nursing and The Correctional Health Care Patient Safety Handbook are available in print and digital on Amazon.

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