Jefferson County, New York Facing Class Action Over Alleged Denial of Opioid Addiction Treatments at Correctional Facility
M.C. et al. v. Jefferson County, New York et al.
Filed: March 1, 2022 ◆§ 6:22-cv-00190
A class action aims to challenge the Jefferson County, New York Correctional Facility’s alleged practice of routinely denying life-sustaining medical treatment to individuals in recovery from opioid addiction.
A proposed class action lawsuit aims to challenge the Jefferson County, New York Correctional Facility’s alleged practice of routinely denying life-sustaining medical treatment to non-pregnant individuals in recovery from opioid addiction.
Filed by attorneys for the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the 41-page complaint against Jefferson County, Sheriff Colleen M. O’Neil and other officials says that the parties’ “categorical ban” on methadone and buprenorphine treatment at the correctional facility worsens crippling withdrawal symptoms and heightens the risks of relapse.
The lawsuit says that although a court in New York’s Northern District recognized in an order six months ago that the effects of sudden, forcible withdrawal from medication for opioid use disorder can expose an individual to a risk of death, the defendants at present provide methadone treatment to only one non-pregnant person in the jail—one of the suit’s plaintiffs, who previously sued the facility to receive access to methadone—and continue to enforce their ban on opioid addiction treatments for those in custody. The suit also alleges the defendants routinely strip those who enter the jail of their prescribed medication to treat opioid addiction, “forcing them needlessly into life-threatening withdrawal.”
The filing stresses that as opioid addiction in the U.S. has developed into an epidemic, the broad consensus in the medical and scientific communities, and increasingly among federal and state health agencies, confirms that medication can be an effective way to treat opioid addiction. Per the suit, the FDA has approved methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone to treat opioid addiction, with the former two designated as “essential medicines” by the World Health Organization and naltrexone found to be less effective. According to the complaint, while one medication may be more effective than another depending on the severity of a patient’s opioid use disorder, “there is no serious dispute within the medical community” that methadone and buprenorphine are among the most effective treatments for the condition.
The lawsuit adds that ending a person’s medication regimen for opioid addiction prematurely is “exceptionally dangerous” as it can trigger painful, “crushing” withdrawal symptoms that can last for weeks or months. Forcing a person to withdraw from opioid addiction treatment medications “violates the standard of care,” the case says.
According to the lawsuit, those at the Jefferson County Correctional Facility who ask the jail’s medical staff for methadone or buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction are routinely denied, and even individuals whose doctors have prescribed treatments have no better luck.
Per the case, at least six people currently in custody have been removed from their prescribed opioid addiction treatments, and at least an additional three people released recently were denied their prescribed treatment during their detention.
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