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Treating Addiction in Prison Healthcare

It is undeniable that substance abuse and addiction have reached epidemic levels in the United States. Public health emergencies, such as the “opioid epidemic,” are dominating news cycles, ravaging communities, and leading to an influx of newly incarcerated drug-offenders in the nation’s jails and prisons.

Addiction in Prison

Alongside the influx of drug-offenders into the correctional system has come a massive increase in the number of inmates suffering from substance use disorders and dependence. In fact, recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) suggests that over two-thirds of currently incarcerated inmates suffer from drug dependence or abuse disorders. This, coupled with the rapidly increasing rates of opioid (and other narcotics) related convictions and incarcerations, has placed a significant strain on correctional facilities and their healthcare providers to combat substance abuse and provide their inmates with necessary treatment.

This strain, however, does not absolve correctional institutions of their constitutionally mandated responsibility to provide inmates with “adequate medical care,” as ruled by the United States Supreme Court in 1976.

Requirements to Treat Addiction Under the “Adequate Health Care” Standard

In fact, according to standards issued by both the Federal Bureau of Prisons and American Bar Association, in order to comply with the “adequate medical care” standard, all correctional facilities are advised to provide inmates with:

  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Addiction counseling
  • Prescription medication-assisted treatment
  • Regular evaluations and screenings
  • Withdrawal treatment
  • Detoxification
  • Mental health assessments

While there has long been debate over whether or not substance abuse and addiction treatment fall under an inmate’s eighth amendment protections and rights to “adequate medical care,” a recent landmark case in the United States Court of Appeals has eliminated any room for argument by expanding the federal protections afforded to prisoners, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to include drug and alcohol addiction.

In May of 2019, the United States Court of Appeals issued a precedent-setting decision which explicitly establishes a right to drug and alcohol addiction treatment for all inmates within the United States correctional system. More specifically, this decision – focused on the provision of prescription medication to combat opioid use disorders – officially recognizes the need for prescription medication in treating inmates with addiction and substance use disorders in all correctional facilities throughout the United States.

Failure to Treat Addiction in Prison is Unconstitutional

Despite the aforementioned requirements, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University estimates that only 11% of inmates in need of substance abuse treatment receive it while incarcerated. This not only represents a failure to adhere to the standards and legal requirements of correctional facilities to provide “adequate medical care,” it constitutes a deprivation of an inmate’s constitutionally guaranteed rights.

As such, a correctional institution and correctional healthcare provider’s failure or refusal to provide its inmates with substance abuse treatment may be considered negligence, deliberate indifference, or medical malpractice under the law. Institutions and providers who engage in negligent and deliberately indifferent behavior – especially that which results in significant injury or death to inmates under their supervision – may be held liable in tort law claims.

How Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC Can Help

The team of trial attorneys at Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC is extensively experienced in litigating jail and prison medical malpractice and negligence claims on behalf of victims who were refused treatment of their drug and alcohol addiction. Our lawsuits against correctional facilities and their healthcare providers have resulted in many multi-million-dollar awards for our clients and sent a message of accountability to negligent providers after failing to send inmates to a specialist or surgical infections.

If a loved one or someone you know was refused or provided inadequate treatment for addiction while incarcerated and suffered preventable injuries or death, contact Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC at (503) 226-6361 or fill out our online intake form for your free case evaluation today.

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