WATERTOWN — An upstate New York county is charged in federal court with unnecessarily forcing people from its prison into harmful withdrawals by prohibiting medical treatment for opioid addiction.
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit against Jefferson County on Tuesday. The advocacy group said county jail operators are largely banning methadone and buprenorphine, despite clear evidence the drugs can effectively treat what specialists call opioid use disorder.
“Jefferson County’s blanket ban on the treatment our clients need to survive is cruel, discriminatory, and prioritizes stigma over science,” NYCLU attorney Antony Gemmell said in a statement. a prepared statement. “The ban must be lifted now.”
Calls seeking comment were made Wednesday to the attorney and the Jefferson County Sheriff.
NYCLU says the ban is unconstitutional and discriminatory in a lawsuit identifying two plaintiffs by the initials, MC and TG, representing a class of people incarcerated at the jail.
Judge David Hurd, who is hearing the case, issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday that requires the county to provide methadone treatment to MC, who was just returned to jail and was facing possible removal.
MC, 29, had said in a court filing that the previous two times he had been taken off methadone in prison were the sickest he had ever been.
“I’m petrified to have to go through this again,” he said in the filing. “Equally frightening to me is the prospect of relapsing without my medication. Having spent weeks shaking and screaming on the floor of my jail cell when I was taken off methadone before, I know how desperate withdrawal can drive me to take medication to stop the pain.
NYCLU said prisons and jails in New York State and across the country allow such treatment while incarcerated.
And treatment advocates have had success in different courts.