Tag Archives: U.S. Supreme Court

“Cruel and Unusual” Neglect in Prisons

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

HEAL Blog has long been banging the drum of patient healthcare access in incarcerated populations. Under Estelle v. Gamble (1976), the U.S. Supreme Court found that denying medical treatment is unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause, and established the criteria under which prisoners must file suit – “deliberate indifferent.” This essentially means that, if a patient needs medical attention, this cannot be denied, and that, if medical staff deems treatment necessary and orders it, that order must be honored, and that treatment order cannot be countermanded. Additionally, neither security staff, nor internal bureaucracies can hinder said treatment order in any way, and treatment decisions must be made based on medical need, rather than on convenience or the needs for security (Schoenly, n.d.). Estelle v. Gamble basically made inmates the only Americans for whom healthcare is a Constitutional right.

Gavel next to stethoscope

Photo Source: CorrectionalNurse.net

This argument has been successfully made as it relates to HIV, and more recently Hepatitis C (HCV), as numerous courts have ruled in favor of plaintiffs for whom HCV treatment has been denied. Courts have repeatedly rule that, regardless of the costs associated with treatment, prisons are required by the Constitution to provide Direct-Acting Antiviral (DAA) HCV drugs to inmates. Unfortunately for the states, this has the potential to explode correctional pharmacy budgets – a valid concern that, nonetheless, runs counter to case law. In order to avoid having to pay for treatment, many prisons actively avoid the Federally mandated HIV/HCV screenings required in Federal prisons by making state-level inmate screening “on request.”

When conducting research on state screening requirements, an official from the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC) informed me that the state does NOT require inmates to be screened for either HIV or HCV during the intake process or on a regular basis. This is troubling, as Kentucky has the 3rd highest rate of HCV in the U.S. – 2.7 per 100,000 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). Kentucky also has the 10th highest rate of Opioid Overdose Deaths, having seen a 12% increase to a rate of 23.6 per 100,000 in 2016 (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2017).

Many, if not most, of those opioid drug-related death are a result of Injection Drug Use (IDU), the leading cause of new HCV infections in the U.S. With the high rate of arrest for illicit prescription opioid and heroin IDU comes a marked increase in the number of inmates living with HIV and HCV acquired via IDU. Incarceration settings are, perhaps, the best location for the U.S. to begin actively eradicating the HCV epidemic, but cost concerns make that an unlikely occurrence. Further complicating the issue is that prisons, jails, and youth correctional facilities do not have the same price bargaining powers enjoyed by Medicaid, Ryan White (AIDS Drug Assistance Programs – ADAP), and private insurers, meaning that prisons often pay the highest prices for HCV DAAs and other prescription drugs. This must change, if the U.S. hopes to adequately approach eradicating HCV.

Next week, HEAL Blog will take a look at some recent HCV-related issues in the U.S. correctional system.

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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