|April 1, 2019
Defendant in Aroostook County Jail Should Remain on MAT, Court Says
A Maine judge issued a very important decision in support of a person’s right to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) while incarcerated. This is the latest important victory in recent months after Pesce v. Coppinger. The full order is here, but the critical facts are that a woman in long-term recovery taking buprenorphine was sentenced to jail for petty theft. The jail indicated that she would be forced off of her medication. The judge noted that “the withdrawal protocol is not a treatment for opioid use disorder, and that “With the help of her medication, Ms. Smith has been in active recovery for her opioid use disorder for approximately ten years. During that time, Smith has regained custody of her four children, secured stable housing for her family, and obtained employment.”
In granting the preliminary injunction for the woman, the judge ruled that the plaintiff would have likely succeeded on multiple claims, including an American with Disabilities Act claim entitling a person to a reasonable accommodation for treatment of a medical disease while incarcerated.
The judge said that “Based on the evidence offered by the Plaintiff’s experts, the available scientific evidence, and Ms. Smith’s medical history, I find that forcing Ms. Smith to withdraw from her buprenorphine would cause her to suffer painful physical consequences and
would increase her risk of relapse, overdose, and death.” Furthermore, “Without her desired accommodation, the Plaintiff will be deprived of the only form of treatment shown to be effective at managing her disability and therefore will be denied “meaningful access” to the Jail’s health care services.”
This is of high value to the AMA’s advocacy that MAT should be a required option in jails and prisons, and denying access to MAT arguably violates a person’s rights under the ADA and is contrary to medical evidence and the generally accepted standard of care for SUD.
The case was spearheaded by the ACLU of Maine and included support from the Maine Association of Psychiatric Physicians, Maine Medical Association, and Northern New England Society Of Addiction Medicine.
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