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Inmates need better addiction treatment

Photo: Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

The law firm Akin Gump is arguing that inmates are being wrongly denied treatment for opioid addiction, and that there’s a strong case for lawsuits to force the criminal justice system to treat them (first spotted by Joshua Sharfstein), per a memo written by Akin Gump for Bloomberg American Health Initiative.

Why it matters: If people don’t get treatment in jail or prison, they’re at extreme risk of overdosing when they get out, according to the memo. That’s because inmates aren’t using opioids while incarcerated, so their tolerance goes way down.

The law firm suggests 2 main avenues for lawsuits:

  • The Eighth Amendment: Denying adequate medical treatment could be considered a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Federal civil rights laws: Denying treatment could be considered a form of discrimination against people with disabilities (especially under the Americans with Disabilities Act).

Between the lines: It’s not a shocker that a law firm is suggesting lawsuits — and it acknowledges there hasn’t been a legal precedent yet that establishes a right to treatment for inmates.

  • But don’t be surprised if this becomes a new legal movement, as the public health community looks for new ways to reduce deaths from opioid overdoses.
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