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Lawsuit: Denying Methadone to Prisoners Is Cruel and Unusual

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. | Last updated on

Shouldn't prisons try to save those who save themselves?

An opioid dependent inmate at the Middleton Hall of Corrections has found himself in jail for 60 days for driving to the pharmacy on a suspended license to pick up his three day supply of methadone. Geoffrey Pesce had exhausted all other options of getting to the pharmacy and he truly feared relapsing after being clean for two years. Pesce is not trying to escape this sentence. He just wants the prison to honor the prescription for methadone he has honored for the past two years, to the point of losing his freedom for 60 days in jail to make sure he took his medication.

Denying Methadone Treatment Is Cruel and Potentially Deadly

Is denying methadone treatment cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore a violation of Pesce's Eight Amendment Rights? According to the ACLU, it is. The Union has filed a federal suit against the Essex County Sheriff's Department in the U.S. District of Massachusetts for refusing to give Pesce the methadone prescription Pesce has so diligently used to combat opioid addiction, citing it is not only dangerous, but also unlawful.

Withdrawing from opioids "cold turkey" can be quite severe, often leading to excruciating pain and even death. Even if Pesce survives withdrawal, he justifiably fears slipping back into opioid use upon release from his 60-day sentence, and die, just like Pesce's former roommate did when released from the same prison.

Denying Medical Care to a Substance Abuse Recovery Patient Violates the ADA

In addition, since Pesce is already in substance abuse treatment, the ACLU contends that he should be protected under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), and treated just as any other prisoner-patient would be, like those with diabetes or cancer. Citing public policy concerns, the ACLU states "To someone with a life-threatening medical condition, treatment isn't optional -- it's critical. Public officials should support people in their efforts to overcome opioid addiction, not obstruct them." Fighting opioid addiction among all Americans is a major concern, evidenced by the recent $1 billion in grants the U.S. Health and Human Services received to fight opioid addiction. The ACLU is hoping that a lawsuit will convince the prison to help in this fight.

If you or someone you love is suffering from substance abuse withdrawal in prison, contact a local criminal defense attorney. A legal advisor will be able to listen to the unique facts of your case, apply local and federal laws, and determine if you can get the care you need.

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