ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Grand Traverse County Over Jail Medication

Posted by Beth Milligan | October 28, 2021

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) and the law firm Goodwin filed a federal lawsuit against Grand Traverse County in the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan on Thursday. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 20-year-old Traverse City resident Cyrus Patson, alleges that the Grand Traverse County Jail’s practice of refusing medication to people who are incarcerated and have opioid use disorder is against the Americans with the Disabilities Act and the eighth amendment.

Patson, who is currently on the opioid use disorder drug Suboxone, is facing charges in the 13th District Court of tampering with an electronic monitoring device. He expects to be sentenced to prison if a verdict is announced on November 12th. According to the ACLU, “Mr. Patson will face serious medical consequences and serious risks to his health if the prison administration continues its policy and practice of denying prescription Suboxone to individuals incarcerated at the facility for more than a few days that was shown prematurely.” Stopping treatment (opioid use disorder) causes painful withdrawal symptoms that significantly increase the risk of relapse, overdose, and even death. In fact, Mr. Patson himself suffered severe and debilitating withdrawal symptoms during a previous term in the same prison where he was denied medication for an opioid use disorder. “

“My entire treatment plan is saving my life – it helps me live alone and hold on to hope for my future,” Patson said in a statement. “My opioid use disorder doesn’t define me, but it is a lifelong struggle that I fight successfully with the help of medications my doctor has prescribed along with regular counseling.”

Drugs for opioid use disorders have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and, according to the ACLU, are “widely recognized as the standard treatment for this disease”. “Suddenly stopping medically necessary treatment is cruel, discriminatory, and potentially fatal,” said Syeda Davidson, ACLU chief executive of Michigan. This applies to people with an opioid use disorder as well as to people with other disabilities or illnesses. Prison officials are required by law to uphold and uphold the rights of everyone in their care. Mr. Patson is no different and should have adequate access to his medically necessary treatment. ”

According to studies cited in the lawsuit, the number of people in Michigan who died of opioid overdoses rose from 118 to 2,036 people between 1999 and 2018. Opioid overdoses are the leading killer of Americans under the age of 50.

“Giving inmates access to drugs to treat opioid use disorders is not only feasible, it’s a human right,” said Alexandra Valenti, partner at Goodwin. “We are asking Grand Traverse County officials to exercise their legal responsibilities and provide Mr. Patson with his doctor-prescribed life-saving medication while he is in detention.”


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