Two inmates in Massachusetts state prisons are suing the state prison system for failing to provide Hepatitis C drugs to prisoners infected with the disease.
The National Lawyers Guild and the Prisoners’ Legal Services have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Boston on behalf of Emilio Paszko and Jeffrey Fowler, who both have Hepatitis C. In the lawsuit they argue that the Massachusetts Department of Corrections has knowingly delayed evaluating prisoners, and they have consciously avoided knowledge of their treatment needs. 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 lawsuit names Carol Higgins O’Brien, Commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Correction, and Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Healthcare, LLC.
In 2013, there were approximately 29,718 cases of Hepatitis C infections reported in the U.S. About 2.7 million people in the U.S. have chronic Hepatitis C infection, but most don’t know they are sick because they don’t look or feel sick even as their liver is being damaged, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Between 75 and 85% of those infected with the Hepatitis C virus will develop a chronic infection.
Hepatitis is an expensive illness
More than 1,500 prisoners in the Massachusetts state prison system have Hepatitis, but presently only three are being treated for it. Hepatitis C is an infection that can last a lifetime and it can progress to liver inflammation, liver damage, cancer and eventually death. It is spread through drug use and sharing intravenous needles, sexual contact, tattoos using unsterilized equipment and unscreened blood transfusions, and prisons have a higher rate of Hepatitis infection than the rest of the population.
The FDA has approved new drugs Solvadi and Olysio for the treatment of Hepatitis; however, these new treatments cost between $40,000 and $84,000 per person, according to the Department of Corrections, representatives of which were unable to comment on the pending litigation.
In the lawsuit, the prisoners are seeking a court injunction that would force Massachusetts prisons to administer the new drugs to the inmates who are sick with the disease. The suit also claims that the Massachusetts DOC is in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit alleges that the DoC was supposed to maintain a waiting list for treatment slots for the new Hepatitis C medications, and that they are not doing the required medical testing that would determine which patients might benefit from the new protocol of treatments.
Prison systems across the United States are facing similar challenges. They are prioritizing costly medical treatments for the most serious cases because of budgetary constraints. But withholding medication from sick men and women is more than just malpractice; it is almost criminal. We can only hope that justice will be served.