STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Ashley McAuliffe grew up as the typical Steamboat Springs native, skiing every chance she could and suffering the inevitable injuries from the sport.
After a few broken ankles and wrists, plus a three-year regimen of opioids to handle the pain, she found herself in a scary place she never expected — addicted to the pills that were supposed to help her.
In Maine, as in most other states in the U.S., patients on medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder weren’t allowed to take their life-saving medications while incarcerated.
All that changed in October of this year, when the American Civil Liberties Union settled a lawsuit with the Maine Department of Corrections. The ACLU sued on behalf of Zach Smith, who has been on Suboxone for five years as treatment for opioid use disorder. He was told he would have to stop taking Suboxone during his incarceration. I wrote of the pending case in my blog on August 12, 2018.
We know that if denied his medication, he would go through physical opioid withdrawal and would be at higher risk for overdose death, particularly immediately after release from incarceration.
The ACLU took his case and settled a lawsuit with the Maine Department of Corrections, which ultimately agreed to allow him to continue on his medication. Jailers warn that this was a “special case” and that they would not necessarily allow other prisoners to take buprenorphine as prescribed by a physician. However, this appears to be a clear precedent for other patients and other lawsuits.
I think this is a landmark case for our patients. MAT is the standard of care, and it should be illegal to refuse to provide this treatment to people who are sentenced to incarceration. The diversion of Suboxone films has been an issue for many years beause patients in opioid withdrawal can’t access suboxone through any legal channel. This creates a black market for suboxone, and jailers across the country have complained loudly about this situation – that is of their own creation.
The ACLU is supporting patients in their fight to continue medication-assisted treatments during incarceration is other states, too. According to the ACLU website, a similar case is pending in Washington state.
If you are a patient – or know a patient – who is being denied medication-assisted treatment during incarceration, I hope you have a lawyer who is willing for fight for your rights. If you do not, consider reaching out to the ACLU in your state:
Historic legislation aimed at addressing the nation’s opioid overdose epidemic has now passed both the House and Senate and is expected to be signed into law by the President shortly. Thank you to all who wrote their legislators in support of this important measure.
The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug overdose crisis in US history — on track to kill more people over the next decade than currently live in entire American cities like Miami or Baltimore.
The opioid misuse and overdose crisis touches everyone in the United States. In 2016, we lost more than 115 Americans to opioid overdose deaths each day, devastating families and communities across the country. Preliminary
There was a flurry of activity in Washington last week. The White House held its long anticipated Opioid Summit. Participants discussed actions already taken by the Administration. While statements were made that anyone who needs treatment should be able to access it, the tone of the event was focused on a tougher law enforcement approach. The President mentioned that perhaps drug dealers in the US should be executed.
The Opioid Crisis was addressed in the President’s recent State of the Union Address. He stated that his administration will provide treatment for anyone suffering from addiction. Subsequently, the White House released its 2019 Budget proposal. It contains a request for $10 billion to fight the Opioid Epidemic – a significant increase from the $3 billion contained in the budget recently passed by Congress.