Two prisoners have sued the Massachusetts Department of Corrections to get access to the latest hepatitis treatments.
The two inmates, Emilian Paszko and Jeffrey Fowler, argue that the prison system has been withholding treatment from the estimated 1,500 patients in the Massachusetts state prison system who have hepatitis C.
The system has “continued a years-long reduction in the number of patients treated for hepatitis C,” contends the lawsuit, filed on Paszko and Fowler’s behalf by Prisoners’ Legal Service, a non-profit advocacy group, and the National Lawyers Guild.
“They have knowingly delayed evaluating prisoners, and they have consciously avoided knowledge of their treatment needs,” the suit contends. “Prisoners who ought to receive the new medications are not receiving them, and a vast number of prisoners with hepatitis C are not being afforded the necessary testing to determine whether they too should receive treatment.”
The Massachusetts Department of Corrections declined comment today, due to the pending litigation.
The plaintiff prisoners claim that only three prisoners in the entire system were being administered hepatitis C treatments.
Drugs and therapies for the disease improved markedly in the last two years, especially with the appearance of new antivirals and the FDA’s approval of the drugs Sovaldi and Olysio.
The prisoners are seeking a court injunction forcing the Massachusetts prisons to administer the full range of available treatments to the hepatitis-positive inmates.
“The DOC and its health care contractor knew before 2011, when triple therapy arrived, that they needed to bring a large number of prisoners who were previously ineligible for treatments – particularly non-responders and relapsers – back into the treatment protocol, but ordering pre-treatment tests and staging them,” the lawsuit argues. “They failed to do so then, and defendants are failing to do so now.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that many prison systems in the U.S. prioritize expensive medical treatments to the most serious cases of disease among prisoners, due to budget constraints.
Similar prisoner lawsuits have sprung up around the country, according to the National Hepatitis Corrections Network, an advocacy group.
Hepatitis C was called a “silent epidemic” by the U.S. Surgeon General as early as 2000. Estimates place as much as 2 percent of the entire adult population of the country as carrying the virus. The latest estimates place 3.2 million cases of the disease in the U.S., with 17,000 new cases reported annually. The nation’s prisoners have a higher percentage of the virus, due to intravenous drug use and other risk behaviors – some estimates place the prison population at 40 percent of the inmates being infected, according to the new lawsuit.
“Defendants are imposing a human cost on the prisoners in their care as well as on the population which will be at risk when these prisoners are released,” the lawsuit said.
Filed Under: Drug Discovery