Currently, Massachusetts state prisons refuse to provide addiction medications to inmates, even those who are involuntarily committed to be treated for drug addiction. People advocating on behalf of those incarcerated claim that the prisons are violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide medication to those addicted to substances. There are ongoing efforts to determine whether there are grounds to file a lawsuit against these state correctional facilities for violating the rights of inmates.
Current Practices Within Prisons
Substance abuse is common among prisoners. It is estimated that two-thirds of inmates struggle with a substance abuse disorder. State correctional facilities do not provide buprenorphine or methadone, two common medications that are used to treat substance abuse outside of prison. While a bold criminal justice reform bill was recently passed, the proposal to require medication-assisted treatments in all state correctional facilities was removed. But lawmakers like state Rep. James O’Day (D-West Boylston), are continuing to implement such treatments in prisons.
“This is really targeted at trying to prevent people who are coming out of jail who are 12 times more likely to overdose,” O’Day said. “They come out and they go back to using. And I really think that because of where we are as a society today that we really need to focus on this. What we’re doing now isn’t working.”
Advocates of those who are behind bars argue that a person suffering from a substance use disordered is considered disables under the ADA act. Thus, not providing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) would violate the ADA act and be considered a discriminatory act.
In late March of 2018, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling sent a letter to Massachusetts public safety and health officials detailing how the ADA requires protections for those with Opioid Use Disorder who are undergoing medication-assisted treatment. The investigation Lelling and his team are launching will look at those who were receiving addiction medication before their imprisonment continued to receive the treatment after their incarceration.
Many healthcare and legal experts agree that suddenly denying people the medication they need to treat their addiction is not advised. Leo Beletsky, a law and health sciences professor at Northeastern University, describes this failure to provide medication-assisted treatment to imprisoned addicts “barbaric.”
“There is going to be a national move on the part of the US Department of Justice to start addressing these blatant violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Beletsky stated. Legislation denying inmates medication-assisted treatment “are baked in stigma,” Beletsky claimed. “They’re not based on any scientific rationale.”
Amherst Firm Helping You Face Drug Charges
All people deserve access to quality treatment, especially when struggling with an addiction. It is critical to understand the policies within the state prison system and to make sure the rights of inmates and those accused of drug-related criminal charges are protected. Thomas Whitney Attorney at Law provides compassionate and skilled legal counsel to those facing criminal charges associated with opioids or other substances. Contact our Amherst office today at (413) 256-6234 to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.