Jail Must Provide Drugs to Addict Inmates: Judge

Court finds that opioid addiction is a “disability”

Boston Globe – A federal judge has ordered the Essex County (Massachusetts) House of Correction to provide methadone to a prospective inmate who relies on the medication to treat his opioid addiction, saying that denying the treatment can violate both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The preliminary injunction, issued Monday by US District Judge Denise J. Casper, applies to only one man and one facility. But the decision could resonate nationwide because most prisons and jails do not allow medications to treat addiction.

“This is the first time a court in this country has ruled that failure to provide medication-assisted treatment in the criminal justice system can violate the ADA and the Constitution,” said Sally Friedman, vice president of legal advocacy for the Legal Action Center, a New York-based nonprofit that fights discrimination against people with addiction.

About two-thirds of all inmates have a substance use disorder. In Massachusetts, legislation passed this year is starting to open the door to anti-addiction medications in some correctional settings.

And around the country, the decision could have “enormous implications,” Friedman said, because it signals that similar suits are likely to succeed. She predicted that legislators and correctional officials will take note.

Essex Sheriff Kevin F. Coppinger said in a statement that he is weighing his next steps “due to the potential far-ranging effects of Judge Casper’s decision, both statewide and nationally.”

Outside of most prisons and jails, methadone and another medication, buprenorphine, are considered standard treatment for those addicted to opioids.

The medications ease withdrawal pains, eliminate cravings, and prevent overdoses. But correctional officials often oppose them because they are opioids that can be diverted for illegal use.

“In a prison setting,” Coppinger said, “administering these drugs raises many security, logistical, and fiscal concerns that are not issues for individuals who are not incarcerated.” Read more.