Colorado Prisons ‘Routinely Refuse’ Treatment to Hepatitis C-Positive Inmates, Lawyer Says
A Colorado lawyer is considering bringing a class-action suit against the Colorado Department of Corrections for "routinely refus[ing]" treatment for inmates with hepatitis C, the Rocky Mountain News reports (Abbott, Rocky Mountain News, 2/28). David Lane, who represents convicted murderer Frank Rodriguez, who is "critically ill" with HCV, says failure to provide adequate treatment to HCV-positive inmates constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment," which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Department of Corrections Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph McGarry estimates that approximately 17% of the 17,150 Colorado inmates have HCV, but Lane believes the percentage is much higher, estimating that up to 40% of the prison population in Colorado has HCV. Effective HCV treatment, a two-drug regimen of interferon and ribavirin, costs about $20,000 each year per infected prisoner, according to McGarry. However, the DOC budget allows for only $7 million annually for all prisoner medications (Pankratz, Denver Post, 2/28). The Post reports that not all HCV-positive inmates receive treatment. Written protocols determine which inmates receive treatment, McGarry said, and the guidelines require that all HCV-positive inmates undergo a year-long drug and alcohol treatment program and be alcohol-, drug- and tobacco-free for one year in order to receive treatment. In addition, he said that the department considers the treatment of prisoners with advanced liver disease "futile." The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado says that the prison's protocol regarding HCV medication "unnecessarily denies and delays treatment" (Auge, Denver Post, 2/28). Lane called the prison's rules, which also state that a prisoner sentenced to less than two years is not eligible to receive HCV treatment, "stalling tactics." The many "rules and regulations" regarding treatment prevent inmates from accessing it "easily, if at all," Lane said. McGarry said that 80% of people infected with HCV "have no problem with it" and do not develop liver failure or cancer as a result. However, Colorado prison officials in the last year requested and were denied liver transplants at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center for two HCV-positive inmates. A third HCV-positive inmate is currently awaiting a hospital board decision regarding a liver transplant (Rocky Mountain News, 2/28). According to a report, titled "Hepatitis C and Incarcerated Populations: The Next Wave for Correctional Health Initiatives," conducted by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials in 2000, 20% to 40% of U.S. prisoners are infected with HCV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/15/00).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.