Upstate NY jail south over access to addiction treatment

A northern New York county is being accused in federal court of needlessly forcing people at its jail into harmful withdrawals by banning a medical treatment for opioid addiction.

The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday against Jefferson County. The advocacy group said operators of the county jail largely ban methadone and buprenorphine, despite clear evidence that the medicines can effectively treat what specialists call opioid use disorder.

“Jefferson County’s blanket ban on the treatment our clients need to survive is cruel, discriminatory, and prioritizes stigma over science,” NYCLU attorney Antony Gemmell said in a prepared statement. “The ban must be lifted now.”

Calls seeking comment were made Wednesday to Jefferson County’s attorney and sheriff.

The NYCLU claims the ban is unconstitutional and discriminatory in a lawsuit identifying two plaintiffs by the initials, MC and TG, representing a class of people incarcerated at the jail.

Judge David Hurd, who is hearing the case, issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday that requires the county to provide methadone treatment to MC, who was just remanded to jail and was facing a possible withdrawal.

Twenty-nine-year-old MC had said in a court filing that the previous two times he was taken off methadone in jail were the sickest he’d ever been.

“I am petrified to have to go through that again,” he said in the filing. “Just as scary to me is the prospect of relapsing again without my medication. Having spent weeks shaking and screaming on the floor of my jail cell when I was taken off methadone before, I know how desperate withdrawal can make me to take drugs to stop the pain.”

The NYCLU said that jails and prisons throughout New York state and the country allow such treatment during incarceration. And advocates fighting for the right to the treatment have had success in different courts.

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