The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC), and local county jails in Oregon have been systematically denying Gabapentin to inmates over the past three years for the purpose of eliminating it from correctional facilities entirely. That would not be a problem if they were replacing it with something equally effective but they are not.
What is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin (brand name Neurontin) is a drug commonly prescribed to treat nerve pain, seizures, and restless leg syndrome. It is also prescribed for mood enhancement sometimes. Most prescriptions are for nerve pain. That at least was the case at USP Victorville in 2016 when every inmate prescribed Gabapentin was switched to Cymbalta overnight. The problem with this, as I would learn the following year, is that Cymbalta does almost nothing to treat nerve pain.
In 2017 I was an inmate at the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) in Portland, Oregon where I was prescribed Gabapentin for nerve pain in my neck. I did not ask for Gabapentin. It was recommended by Dr. Angelina Platas and I tried it. Overnight my neck improved significantly. When deputy Timothy Barker broke my arm a couple months later I was in agony for weeks until a pain specialist came in and doubled my Gabapentin. That significantly reduced my arm pain. In that case my left humerus was snapped in half and there is a large nerve near the humerus that was also damaged.
Unfortunately, my relief was short lived because less than a month later the U.S. Marshals came and took me to the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon (FCI Sheridan) where I was only given my prescribed dose the first day. After that they tapered me off over just a few days and gave me Cymbalta. As a result my nerve pain gave me several more weeks of agony. I tried reasoning with Dr. Amador Cantu because my understanding was that they were not supposed to screw with medication that people were brought in on. Cantu nearly laughed in my face, told me that BOP policies trump whatever policies local jails have, and that he never gives anyone Gabapentin. Had he simply continued my care I would have been just fine.
In early 2018 I was transferred to the Columbia County Jail in St. Helens, Oregon (CCJ) where I asked head nurse Nancy Ronan to look at my records and get me back on Gabapentin. She said that they do not give Gabapentin there and would not put me back on it. Nancy had the bedside demeanor of an iceberg.
In August of 2018, around a year after MCDC doubled my Gabapentin, I arrived at MCDC again and asked to be put back on Gabapentin for my neck. I was told that the policy on Gabapentin had changed and that nobody would be put on it unless they came in on it. I told them that since I was already on it at their facility that it should be continued, but they basically said that because I was transferred and taken off it that the reset button had been hit. Had Dr. Cantu just continued my medication I would have been just fine.
There was an inmate in my unit that still got Gabapentin for something and he told me how the ODOC was doing the same thing in state prisons. I had been looking up Gabapentin in the Sheridan law library and read several cases in which inmates in state prisons in other states had complained about being taken off it.
Upon my release I went to a real doctor who put me on it and I am on it to this day. My real doctor agrees with me and what the jail doctors said before they started finding excuses not to give me Gabapentin. That nothing treats nerve pain like Gabapentin. Certainly not Cymbalta.
Why Do They Systematically Deny Adequate Nerve Pain Management?
The denial is to keep inmates from getting high. Inmates figure out which medications can be used for intoxication and seek them for the purpose of getting high or selling them to other inmates to get high. In the BOP most inmates that were on Gabapentin got it by faking nerve pain or got more than they needed by exaggerating their symptoms. At USP Victorville the going rate for Gabapentin was $5 for 3600 mg that if taken at once would result in a high that people compare to that of Marijuana or alcohol but not exactly that lasts all day. So, someone decided that it is more important to keep people from getting high than it is to keep them from being in pain. There is something basically wrong with that on a human level.