In December 2019, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with Goodwin Procter, filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC). The lawsuit challenges DOC’s refusal to provide medication for addiction treatment (MAT) to prisoners diagnosed with opioid use disorder.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three people who were then incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons, argues that it is dangerous and discriminatory to deny adequate treatment to inmates. Specifically, the suit argues that DOC’s actions constitute cruel and unusual punishment, violating the Eighth Amendment, and discrimination against people with a recognized disability, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Before entering state prison, each of the plaintiffs had been diagnosed with opioid use disorder and was prescribed a daily buprenorphine dose based on their individual medical needs. When they entered state prison, the plaintiffs learned from prison medical providers that, as a matter of policy, they would receive MAT for only 90 days, after which time the medication would be withdrawn until the last 90 days of their sentence. When MAT is abruptly terminated, people with opioid use disorder suffer painful withdrawal and face an increased risk of relapse, overdose, and death.
The ACLU’s lawsuit alleges that DOC has a policy of withholding adequate treatment, rather than providing it. The suit asks the court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would require DOC officials to provide the plaintiffs with their prescribed medication for continued treatment of their opioid use disorder while incarcerated.
The lawsuit follows two successful cases brought by the ACLU of Massachusetts against correctional facilities. In November 2018, a federal court ordered Essex County to provide a Massachusetts man with continued access to prescribed methadone during his sentence. Other federal and local correctional facilities have agreed to settle legal claims and provide MAT in their facilities. In June 2019, the Federal Bureau of Prisons entered a final settlement agreement to provide a Massachusetts woman with her prescribed methadone treatment throughout the course of her incarceration.
Inmates' access to addiction treatment temporarily reinstated | State House News Service
Suit alleges Massachusetts prisons deny treatment to addicted inmates | The Boston Globe
Prison system faces federal lawsuit over opioid treatment limits | Associated Press