September 19, 2018

The ACLU of Massachusetts and Goodwin Procter LLP today filed a lawsuit challenging the denial of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to prisoners diagnosed with opioid use disorder at the Essex County House of Correction at Middleton.

The lawsuit was filed against the Sheriff of Essex County and the Superintendent of the Middleton House of Correction on behalf of Geoffrey Pesce, who suffers from opioid use disorder but has been in recovery for two years with the help of doctor-prescribed medication. He currently faces imprisonment at the Middleton House of Correction in Essex County, where his medication will not be made available to him. If he does not receive this medication, he will suffer painful withdrawal and face an increased risk of relapse, overdose, and death. Despite medical consensus that MAT is the standard care for opioid use disorder, the Middleton House of Correction refuses to provide MAT to people with opioid use disorder, including those who arrive with a prescription for such medication and are already in sustained recovery as a result of it.

“Denying medication-assisted treatment to incarcerated people with opioid use disorder is both unsafe and unlawful,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “To someone with a life-threatening medical condition, treatment isn’t optional – it’s critical. Public officials should support people in their efforts to overcome opioid addiction, not obstruct them.”

The ACLU lawsuit argues that by denying adequate medical care to incarcerated people, this policy violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Similarly, the practice violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits the disparate treatment of people in substance abuse recovery programs.

“We stand with the ACLU of Massachusetts in supporting Mr. Pesce’s right to obtain the medical care he needs to sustain his recovery,” said Ira Levy, partner at Goodwin Procter. “Failing or denying to provide this treatment would indeed be a cruel and unusual punishment for Mr. Pesce, who has been in recovery for two years and whose well-being would be jeopardized without the medication-assisted treatment. We urge the Essex County House of Correction at Middleton to consider the consequences of its actions.”

The ACLU and Goodwin Procter are asking the federal court to require Essex County correctional authorities to provide Pesce’s prescribed medication for continued treatment of his opioid use disorder while incarcerated or to otherwise make the medication available to him by transporting him to the nearby methadone treatment facility to receive his daily dosage.

Pesce has been charged with driving on a suspended license. He expects to serve a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 days in the Middleton House of Correction, after a sentencing hearing on September 24, 2018.

Learn more about the case