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Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the drug addiction and overdose crises currently ravaging communities around the United States. Commonly referred to in the context of the “opioid crisis,” drug addiction is a pervasive societal issue with far-reaching implications for virtually every community in the United States, including the jail and prison population.
Because illicit drug use and the American criminal justice system are so closely intertwined, jails and prisons around the country regularly welcome inmates either charged with drug-related offenses – in fact, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in 2019, roughly 45% of the incarcerated population was convicted of a drug-related offense – or struggling with drug-related medical issues, such as addiction and withdrawal. Estimates from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) project that over two-thirds of currently incarcerated inmates suffer from drug dependence or abuse disorders.
Problematically, with the ever-increasing rate of opioid-related incarcerations, there has also been a drastic increase in the number of extremely serious, even fatal, opioid (and other drug-related) withdrawals in newly admitted inmates.
Common withdrawal symptoms include:
In many instances, the identification of withdrawal symptoms and the provision of appropriate treatment, as required by law, would have prevented these deaths.
In fact, there are multiple systems in place designed to prevent these tragic outcomes for inmates.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has extensive guidelines for the detection of substance abuse, treatment of withdrawal, and detoxification protocols for a wide range of drug withdrawals (including alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine, and opiates). Notably, these guidelines only apply to federal penitentiaries.
However, in addition to the federal guidelines, the American Bar Association (ABA) Criminal Justice Standards on Treatment of Prisoners outlines a series of procedures and guidelines that all correctional authorities are advised to adhere to throughout an inmate’s incarceration to ensure their wellbeing and comply with the law. These standards include instructions for intake screenings to identify medical and mental health issues requiring immediate assessment or attention, such as drug or alcohol intoxication and withdrawal, as well as rehabilitative program protocols, with instructions to immediately provide inmates with substance abuse treatment and counseling following the identification of such issues.
Failure to adhere to the BOP and ABA guidelines in these instances constitutes negligence and/or medical malpractice by the correctional facility and its medical staff. In the event of serious injury or death, the health care providers and correctional institution can be held legally liable in tort law medical malpractice and negligence claims.
This is the case because regardless of the legality of the circumstances which led an inmate to suffer from drug or alcohol-related withdrawal symptoms, the rights guaranteed to all inmates, under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and affirmed by the United States Supreme Court, for access to adequate medical care remain. As such, individuals who suffer serious injury or death resulting from negligence or inadequate treatment of alcohol or drug withdrawal symptoms while incarcerated may sue the correctional facility and medical providers responsible.
The highly qualified and dedicated team of trial attorneys at Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC has extensive experience litigating jail and prison medical malpractice and negligence claims, for millions of dollars in awards, for victims in all 50 states of the United States. If a loved one or someone you know suffered serious injury or death because their medication was interrupted or they were provided inadequate emergency care, contact Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC at (503) 226-6361 or fill out our online intake form today for your free case evaluation.