Details come to light in lawsuit over jail access to addiction treatment

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) – A group of civil rights lawyers is suing Jefferson County once again, citing what they say is a blatant disregard by the county jail to provide inmates with their prescribed opioid addiction medicine.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a suit in federal court against Jefferson County. the claim: the county jail isn’t providing opioid addiction medication, like methadone, to inmates who need it.

“Imposing a ban on this treatment is discriminatory against people diagnosed with opioid use disorder,” said Antony Gemmell, senior staff attorney, New York Civil Liberties Union.

The lawsuit indicates about a dozen inmates at the Jefferson County Jail have been denied opioid addiction meds and are suffering from painful withdrawals.

The suit is focused on two inmates: a 29-year-old man referenced as MC, and a 31-year-old woman known as TG.

According to court documents, MC has been taking methadone through Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addiction and before being jailed this week, wrote a letter requesting that his treatment continue. His request was not granted.

“Which is why we had to move so quickly to seek emergency relief on his behalf because we knew entering custody for him meant a life-threatening lapse in his treatment,” said Gemmell.

The other inmate named in the suit, TG, has been jailed in Jefferson County since late January. The lawsuit indicates TG has a prescription for methadone treatment, but it has been refused.

Court documents say that a nurse told TG that it would be pointless for her to request methadone because the jail does not allow it.

Sheriff Colleen O’Neill has denied that there’s a ban on methadone in the jail after the NYCLU won a decision on behalf of another inmate, a 35-year-old identified as PG.

O’Neill said she wasn’t going to commit to methadone treatments for someone who hadn’t been examined by her jail medical team.

Once PG was jailed and a doctor assessed PG’s medical records, O’Neill said he was cleared for methadone.

Moving forward, the NYCLU will seek preliminary relief for all inmates who haven’t been receiving treatment while it waits to be scheduled for a court date.

Sheriff O’Neill declined to comment on the latest suit.

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