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Lawsuit challenges policy of denying inmates addiction meds

September 20, 2018

MIDDLETON, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts jail’s policy of denying inmates access to opioid addiction medication violates constitutional rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act, according a lawsuit filed in federal court this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, the civil rights organization asked a judge to require the Essex County House of Correction in Middleton to provide methadone to Geoffrey Pesce.

The 32-year-old Ipswich man is facing a jail sentence for speeding and driving on a suspended or revoked license.

The ACLU argues that denying Pesce his doctor-prescribed methadone violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with substance use disorder.

The ACLU says Pesce has been in recovery for two years and needs his daily medication. Otherwise, it says, he will go though painful opioid withdrawal while incarcerated and face a higher risk of overdosing upon release.

The organization, which has filed similar lawsuits in Maine and Washington state, said the jail should provide Pesce the medication on site or drive him to his current methadone clinic a few miles away each morning.

A spokesman for the Essex County Sheriff’s Department said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit comes as jails and prisons across the country are starting to provide addiction medications to inmates, as resistance from long skeptical corrections officials appears to be loosening amid the national drug epidemic.

Massachusetts lawmakers this year created a pilot program at six county jails where inmates will be provided opioid addiction medications starting next September. Essex County, however, is not one of the jails participating.

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