Prisoners Using Antibiotic Ointment As Lip Balm, Hair Grease: Study

Antibiotic ointments are being used inappropriately by some inmates in correctional facilities, according to a new study, with some using treatments like Bacitracin as lip balm and hair grease.

Researchers said the discovery of this practice is concerning because inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to drug-resistance in bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus (MRSA).

"Alternative products, such as lotion and ointments that do not contain antibiotics, are available to inmates, so this comes down to more awareness and better education for this group of people," study researcher Carolyn Herzig, M.S., a Ph.D. candidate, said in a statement. "Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are a problem in prisons, and the misuse of antibiotics in these facilities might exacerbate this issue."

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control Epidemiology, was based on responses from 822 male and female inmates of two maximum-security prisons. They were interviewed over two years.

Columbia University researchers asked the inmates whether they had used topical antibiotics over the last six months. Of those who said they did, 59 percent of men and 40 percent of women didn't use the antibiotics for antibiotic purposes.

Twenty-nine percent of the men and 28 percent of the women reported using the ointments to relieve dry skin; 18 percent of men and 15 percent of women reported using the ointments as lip balm; and 8 percent of men and 3 percent of women reported using the ointments to grease their hair. And 6 percent of the men said they used the ointments for shaving.

MSNBC reported that hair gel and shaving cream are not easily obtained in prisons, but antibiotics are given to prisoners if they need them.

"Although inmates may purchase some personal hygiene products, like shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant, from the facility commissary, shaving cream, lip balm and hair gel are prohibited due to security concerns," the New York City Department of Corrections press secretary Robin Campbell told MSNBC through a statement.