Prison doctors are being asked by health managers to review their prescriptions of Buscopan because of the increasing trend for prisoners to crush the drug and smoke it.
In a letter to prison staff in June, advisers warn of the trend of smoking the drug, which releases scopolamine, a known potent hallucinogenic.
The letter follows warnings from a GP working in a prison that he was receiving dozens of requests for prescriptions a day.
The Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt) charity, which runs intensive, abstinence-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes in prisons, said there had already been a serious incident when a patient collapsed in his cell after using a large quantity of the drug, alongside another new psychoactive substance or legal high.
Dr William Laird, a GP working in substance misuse in Wandsworth Prison, south London, said the drug is used when patients addicted to heroin are transferred to methadone, to help with bowel cramps, typically in the first five days.
He said: ‘Six months ago I was suddenly being asked for dozens of prescriptions every day. Considering I am just one doctor in the prison, it was clear there was a problem, and I became concerned it was being used inappropriately. In one case a patient managed to smuggle one hundred Buscopan tablets into the prison and was selling it to other inmates in the wing.’
Mike Trace, the CEO of RAPt said: ‘Smoking Buscopan is part of a much larger problem with new psychoactive substances in prison, and the destructive impact of these on the safety of prisoners and staff is well documented. We are concerned that the situation on the ground is developing faster than the sector’s ability to respond. We urgently need dedicated drug recovery wings in every prison.’
A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘We are aware of reports of hyoscine butylbromide being misused for its hallucinogenic effects. We’ve contacted clinicians, prisons and healthcare providers to raise awareness of this and to consider reviewing people prescribed it, reporting any incidents and looking at alternative medication where appropriate.’
A spokesperson for Boehringer Ingelheim, which exclusively manufactures the drug, said: ‘It is extremely dangerous to misuse any medicine outside its licensed usage and we are extremely concerned to hear it is being used in such a manner.’
Buscopan or hyoscine butylbromide is licensed for spasm relief in the genitourinary and gastrointestinal tract and to control symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome.
While it is available over the counter, there’s no evidence this trend has moved into the general community.