Dr. Craig

Published on January 8, 2016
Her Majesty’s Penitentiary on Forest Road in St. John’s. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

There’s an intuitive appeal to Dr. David Craig’s conservative approach to prescription drugs.

We live in a world where corporations relentlessly promote better living through pharmaceuticals.

Despite growing naturopathic trends, most of us willingly tailor our lives with any variety of medications. We pop pills to sleep or to wake up, to mask achy joints or smooth out rough edges.

As a psychiatrist, Dr. Craig believes we should dial it all back. And he may well have a point.

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In a paper published last month in the Canadian Journal of Addiction, he claims to have achieved much more positive, long-lasting results by weaning patients off unnecessary drugs.

This is admirable.

There’s only one problem.

His subjects are inmates.

They’re not willing participants in a clinical trial. They aren’t given a choice to seek a second opinion. They have no options.

“They are captive to Dr. Craig’s views, which fall within acceptable professional opinion, but which are by his own admission unusual in their level of conservativeness,” lawyer and mental health advocate Mark Gruchy said Wednesday.

Any way you look at it, there are echoes here of an era long since past in which prisoners were seen as ideal guinea pigs for unconventional experiments. They were all housed together, they had no choice in the matter, and their rights and overall welfare were not high on the public’s radar.

Craig’s journal article raises a number of other questions, too.

First, the use of antidepressants for situational depression is widely accepted in the medical community. Simply because one’s depressive state is caused by external stressors rather than a chemical imbalance is not necessarily reason enough to halt drug treatment.

Second, it hardly falls under Craig’s mandate to keep drug costs down at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary. His only concern should be the proper and professional treatment of his patients.

Neither is the illicit trade of prescription drugs between inmates his responsibility. That falls on prison security.

Finally, it is disappointing the results of Craig’s research are, by his own admission, primarily anecdotal.

He says he received high praise from prison officials and staff, that inmates were more alert and less violent.

“Unfortunately,” he writes, “data to confirm and measure the extent of these reported improvements were not gathered.”

Craig may have valuable insight to offer, and his findings will be closely watched by others in the field.

But does the end justify the means?

That’s not so clear.