We are very pleased to hear about the recent legal victories in regard to Medication Assistance Treatment (MAT) for individuals who are incarcerated. In this day and age when MAT has clearly been determined to be an effective practice, why would vivitrol, suboxone or methadone be denied to individuals who are incarcerated?

On a personal level, I am familiar with several people who have been incarcerated because of illegal activities that took place while high on heroin. Once incarcerated, they were denied MAT and as a result, they immediately went back to heroin after being released from prison and within days were re-arrested.

With MAT, instead of being back in the cycle of incarceration, they could well have been on their way to recovery. It’s shameful that MAT is not available in prisons and jails across the country. We hope that these recent rulings will foster an environment of recovery for individuals who are incarcerated with addictions. It is a humane, cost effective and beneficial response to the opioid epidemic

In Washington, Settlement Agreement Reached with Whatcom County Jail to
Provide MAT, and in Massachusetts, Federal Appeals Court Upholds Ruling
that Jail Must Provide MAT to Woman in Maine


In Washington, Settlement Agreement Reached with Whatcom County Jail to Provide MAT, and in Massachusetts, Federal Appeals Court Upholds Ruling that Jail Must Provide MAT to Woman in Maine

May 2, 2019: The Legal Action Center (LAC) applauds both the recent proposed settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit, Kortlever v. Whatcom County, in which the Whatcom County Jail agreed to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD) to all individuals incarcerated there with medical need, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that upholds the District Court of Maine’s preliminary injunction requiring a jail to provide a woman with buprenorphine while incarcerated (Smith v. Aroostook County).

While it’s estimated that at least half of the country’s jail population have substance use disorders, only 10% of facilities offer addiction medicine as part of their treatment services. LAC’s Vice President of Legal Advocacy, Sally Friedman, explains, “These cases send an unmistakable signal to the overwhelming majority of jails in our country that they can no longer get away with denying individuals life-saving medication for opioid use disorder. Denying evidence-based treatment is not only inhumane, but also violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Constitution.”

In 2011, LAC issued a report that provided the seminal analysis on the legality of denying access to MAT in criminal justice settings. The First Circuit has now become the first federal appellate court in the country to affirm that prohibiting MAT in jails may violate the ADA. The Whatcom County proposed settlement is also groundbreaking because it is the first case requiring a jail to provide MAT to all people with OUD in the jail when it is clinically appropriate. Both cases represent enormous victories in the effort to increase access to addiction medicine inside the criminal justice system. MAT has been shown to reduce illicit drug use, crime, and the spread of communicable diseases.

Paul Samuels, LAC’s Director and President states, “The Legal Action Center has long-advocated for jails and prisons throughout the U.S. to provide all three FDA-approved medications to treat opioid use disorder. As we face a continually escalating overdose crisis, it is imperative that all criminal justice settings pay attention to these critical lawsuits and provide the life-saving medication that incarcerated individuals with OUD need and deserve. The criminal justice system needs to be part of the solution to the current crisis, not a hindrance to vital treatment.”

More information about the settlement in Whatcom County can be found here via the ACLU of Washington, and more information about the First Circuit ruling can be foundhere via the ACLU of Maine.


About the Legal Action Center: Established in 1973, the Legal Action Center is the only non-profit law and policy organization in the United States whose sole mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas. 

Translate »