Three people currently incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons will be provided their prescribed medication for addiction treatment (MAT) for the duration of their time in Department of Correction (DOC) custody. A final resolution filed today in an ACLU of Massachusetts lawsuit marks a first-of-its-kind victory.
“Jails and prisons throughout the country should do all they can to support people in their efforts to overcome opioid use disorder, not obstruct them,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Medication for addiction treatment is the standard of care for opioid use disorder. The evidence is clear: MAT saves lives. We hope that jails and prisons everywhere change their policies to ensure people in their custody suffering from opioid use disorder have access to medically prescribed treatment.”
The ACLU of Massachusetts and Goodwin Procter LLP filed the lawsuit in December 2019, challenging the DOC’s denial of buprenorphine maintenance treatment to prisoners diagnosed with opioid use disorder. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three people currently incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons, argued that the DOC violated both the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and the Americans with Disabilities Act’s protections for people with opioid use disorder.
Before entering DOC custody, the three plaintiffs had each been receiving individualized, prescribed daily doses of buprenorphine to treat their opioid use disorder. When they entered state prison, they learned from prison medical providers and staff that they would be forcibly withdrawn from their buprenorphine medication after just 90 days. The lawsuit alleged that, in fact, DOC policy was to automatically remove all individuals in its custody from buprenorphine maintenance treatment after 90 days, and to bar them from any further access to this medication for all but the final 90 days of their incarceration. Without this doctor-prescribed medication, people suffer painful withdrawal and face an increased risk of relapse, overdose, and death.
During a December hearing in federal court, the DOC agreed to restore or continue MAT to the three ACLU plaintiffs throughout the period before the next hearing in the case. The DOC has now agreed to provide the plaintiffs their prescribed medication for continued treatment of their opioid use disorder throughout their incarceration.
“Today’s settlement reinforces the vital need for correctional facilities to provide inmates with access to medically necessary treatment for addiction,” said Alexandra Valenti, partner at Goodwin. “We are pleased that Mr. Sclafani, Mr. Cappola, and Mr. Feinstein will receive their prescribed-medication to treat their opioid use disorder.”
While today’s settlement addresses access to MAT only for the three plaintiffs, based on reports from individuals currently incarcerated in DOC facilities, it is the ACLU’s understanding that, after the lawsuit was filed, the DOC began providing maintenance buprenorphine treatment to all people with an active prescription upon entering DOC custody. The only DOC correctional institutions housing men that currently provide buprenorphine maintenance treatment are MCI-Cedar Junction and MCI-Shirley, but the DOC is currently seeking bids for the provision of MAT services at all DOC facilities. The current estimated contract date is July 1, 2020.
This victory builds on ACLU efforts to increase access to MAT; federal courts have recently required facilities in Massachusetts to provide MAT to incarcerated people with opioid use disorder. In a November 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts victory, a federal court ordered Essex County to provide a Massachusetts man with continued access to his methadone during his sentence. Other federal and local correctional facilities have agreed to settle legal claims to provide MAT in their facilities; most recently, the Federal Bureau of Prisons entered a final settlement agreement to provide a Massachusetts woman her prescribed methadone treatment throughout the course of her incarceration.