Give Inmates Methadone or Take It Away [PHIL-OSOPHY]
The ACLU is suing Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger for not allowing Geoffrey Pesce to receive his methadone treatments in jail.
Pesce has been taking methadone for his opioid addiction for two years, and now that he's facing 60 days jail time, Pesce says his lifeline will be taken away and fears he'll relapse or worse when he gets out.
Just last month, lawmakers on Beacon Hill passed a bill that establishes a pilot program for medication-assisted treatment for opioid use in correctional facilities in Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex and Norfolk Counties, but that's not until next year. In the meantime, health professionals say since the jail doesn't provide methadone treatment, Pesce will suffer painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms, putting his life at risk.
Of course, money is always a large part of the mix. The correctional facilities aren't funded enough to treat as many as two-thirds of the prisoners who have a substance-use disorder. Transporting them to methadone clinics is very costly, and a big burden on transportation and safety personnel. Ask taxpayers, and they'll flatly tell you that they're not willing to pay more taxes to treat the problem. So what are we to do?
Something that will surprise, and even shock some in Massachusetts, is that the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into whether our state facilities are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by forcing incoming inmates who had been taking medications for addiction to stop the drugs once behind bars. Despite criticisms that the Trump Administration has not done enough to address the opioid crises, U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling revealed in a letter that individuals receiving medication-assisted treatment for opioid-use disorder are protected by the ADA. And Lelling is looking into the state's obligations to accommodate this disability.
This may be the answer.
Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos.