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ACLU of Maine files lawsuit, says medical treatment for inmates is inadequate

A new lawsuit is targeting a Maine jail, alleging inadequate medical care for inmates. (WGME)

BANGOR (WGME) – A new lawsuit is targeting a Maine jail, alleging inadequate medical care for inmates.

The case involves a policy banning opioids, even if they're legally prescribed.

This is the second lawsuit filed in just the last few weeks over the same issue.

It basically comes down to this, should inmates be allowed to take prescribed medications for drug addiction?

Right now, policies at most local jails and state prisons say “no.”

“Prisons and jails have to provide adequate medical care to prisoners in their custody,” Zach Heiden, with the ACLU of Maine, said.

In federal court documents, the ACLU of Maine alleges medical care provided by the Department of Corrections is inadequate.

The case involves 30-year-old Zachary Smith.

Smith pleaded guilty to assaulting his father, and will serve nine months behind bars.

“I'm afraid of going to wherever I'm going to serve my time, and them not allowing my medications,” Smith said.

In an interview with our partners at the Bangor Daily News, the Caribou man says he has opioid use disorder, but is now in recovery.

“When he gets to prison, he's going to be denied the medication assisted treatment that's kept him alive for a number of years,” Heiden said.

County jails and state prisons don't allow those with drug addiction to continue to take medications like suboxone and methadone once incarcerated.

The lawsuit alleges those policies "will force Mr. Smith into acute withdrawal, which is extremely painful."

“We think that's wrong and unconstitutional,” Heiden said.

In a separate, but related case filed late last week, a Madawaska woman facing a 40-day sentence for theft is suing the Aroostook County Jail.

She, too, wants to continue taking her addiction treatment medication.

“We don't expect the criminal justice system to solve the opioid crisis, but the least they can do is not make matters worse,” Heiden said.

But an assistant attorney general, representing the Department of Corrections, says inmates are given substance abuse treatment, just not with methadone or suboxone.

"This decision is in part based on considerations of security and the safety of prisoners and staff."

An I-Team investigation last July discovered suboxone is the most trafficked drug in Maine correctional facilities, a fact quoted in the response by the state.

Still, the ACLU says there are ways to safely administer the drugs.

“We hope this case will be a positive precedent, but we hope it will also show prisons and jails there's a better way to do this,” Heiden said.

A hearing on the issue is set for next month in federal court in Bangor.

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