Judge: Jail must provide drug used in opioid treatment - InfoNews

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Judge: Jail must provide drug used in opioid treatment

March 28, 2019 - 9:49 AM

PORTLAND, Maine - A federal judge ordered a Maine jail to provide medication-assisted treatment to an inmate who says it's necessary to keep her opioid addiction in remission, a ruling that a civil rights group called a breakthrough in the battle against opioid abuse.

District Judge Nancy Torresen granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday requiring the Aroostook County Jail to provide physician-prescribed buprenorphine to Brenda Smith, who says the drug alleviates painful withdrawal symptoms and reduces the possibility of a relapse.

The ruling comes at a time when jails and prisons across the country are starting to provide addiction medications to inmates, as resistance from long-skeptical corrections officials appears to be waning amid the national drug epidemic

"This ruling is a breakthrough in the fight against the opioid crisis. The court rightly found that jails must provide necessary medical care for opioid use disorder, just like any other disease," said Emma Bond of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which sued on her behalf.

Peter Marchesi, an attorney for Aroostook County Jail, said the jail plans to pursue "all available legal opportunities" to seek redress.

But it may be too late to change the outcome for Smith. The Madawaska woman is due to report to jail Monday to serve a 40-day sentence for theft.

The judge's ruling follows a weeklong trial in February in which she heard from the plaintiff and from corrections officials and medical experts.

Smith says she had multiple relapses before being prescribed buprenorphine and that she has not had a relapse in the five years since she has been on the drug. During that time, she has earned her high school diploma and regained custody of her children.

"Society will be well served if Ms. Smith is able to continue to care for her children, maintain her housing, and work. History has shown that if she relapses into active use, she will lose all that she has worked so hard to achieve," the judge wrote.

The Aroostook County Jail says buprenorphine, which is known under the brand name Suboxone, is coveted contraband in jail because it can produce a high and is often taken in a dissolvable strip that's easy to conceal and transport. The judge's decision also ignores legal precedent that courts must defer to jail officials when it comes to matters of safety and security, Marchesi said.

Jails and prisons that use medication-assisted programs have education, policy development, and training necessary in place, Marchesi said. The Aroostook County Jail is currently working on such a program but doesn't yet have one in place, he said.

News from © The Associated Press, 2019
The Associated Press

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