The ACLU is assisting a man from Caribou, Manie in suing for the right to continue his addiction treatment medication while he serves his upcoming jail sentence. If the lawsuit is successful, it will create a persuasive precedent and pave the way to create fundamental changes in how jails and prisons treat inmates with substance use disorders.
Zachary Smith, 30, filed his civil rights lawsuit in federal court Thursday against the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office and Maine Department of Corrections. The current jail policy of prevents inmates from continuing their medication-assisted treatment, such as Suboxone or methadone, while incarcerated. The assumption seems to be that while in prison drugs and alcohol are unavailable, therefore, treatment isn’t needed. Most jails allow twelve-step meetings to be brought in from the outside and allow inmates to have sponsors and participate in these meetings. In most cases, access to treatment is limited, and few inmates have constant contact with the outside world. There are still plenty of drugs smuggled into these settings, which makes temptation run high.
In most jails and prisons, prisoners are deprived of their medication-assisted treatment. If on the drug while incarcerated, inmates most often go into withdrawal, which is physically painful and sometimes medically dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms such as sweats, mood swings, vomiting, and even seizures are commonly lived out in a cell. People in withdrawal usually aren’t even allowed to go to the jail clinic – causing addicts to seek relief wherever they can get it. People deprived of their medications are also highly likely to relapse upon release.
The complaint says that Smith’s medications “will cause him physical and psychological suffering, will expose him to heightened risk for other serious medical conditions and could trigger a relapse into active addiction, potentially resulting in overdose and death.”
The U.S. Department of Justice recently launched an investigation into whether Massachusetts prison officials are violating the law by denying prisoners’ medication-assisted treatment. The outcome of that case will impact many states, including Maine.