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  JUNE 08, 2012
Columbia Finds Inmates Misuse Common Pharmaceuticals for Cosmetic Purposes

Researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that inmates at two New York state maximum security prisons are routinely using certain common pharmaceutical products such as Neosporin and Bacitracin as shaving cream, skin lotion, and lip balm. This is of particular concern because using antimicrobials can lead to resistance, and the prevalence of the virulent and highly contagious staph bacteria methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been on the increase in correction facilities.

Based on a survey of 401 women and 421 men in the New York State prisons, the researchers found that 28 percent of women prisoners and 23 percent of men reported using topical antibiotics in the past six months. Among those inmates who reported using these topical antibiotics, 40 percent of women and 59 percent of men reported using them cosmetically.

“This may be because the inmates are not aware of the proper use of antibiotic ointments and are therefore applying the products inappropriately. This is despite the availability of alternative products, such as skin lotion and ointments that do not contain antibiotics, that might be available at some facilities at the medical unit or the prison’s commissary,” said Ms. Carolyn Herzig, a doctoral student in epidemiology.

"I am particularly concerned about recidivism and how MRSA could spread between facilities and the community and hope that an educational campaign might stop the misuse,” said Ms. Herzig.

[Photo: Ms. Carolyn Herzig]