$41 Million Settlement Forces Colorado to Provide Life-Saving Hepatitis C Treatment to Inmates in its Inhumane Prisons

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From [HERE] The Colorado State Claims Board has approved a settlement calling for the Colorado Department of Corrections to spend $41 million over two yearsto treat 2,200 prisoners with hepatitis C. [In photo, racist suspect,Rick Raemisch, the executive director  for the Colorado Department of Corrections,]

The funding is expected to provide treatment to all Colorado prisoners infected with hepatitis C, according to a news release Wednesday from John Krieger, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which represented several prisoners infected with the disease in a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Denver.

Under the terms of the settlement, CDOC will spend $20.5 million during the current fiscal year, which runs until June 2019, and the same amount next fiscal year to treat prisoners infected with the disease.

CDOC leadership “proactively and responsibly” worked with the legislature to get funding for the treatment of hepatitis C this year and will do so again for the next fiscal year in 2019 and 2020, Mark Fairbairn, spokesman for the CDOC, wrote in an email to The Denver Post.

The settlement also stipulates that CDOC will no longer require inmates to undergo drug or alcohol treatment as a precondition for treatment. In addition, treatment for chronic hepatitis C infection will not be refused as a result of any disciplinary violation, the news release says.

The ACLU of Colorado filed a federal class action lawsuit challenging the Colorado Department of Corrections’ systematic denial of life-saving treatment to more than 2,200 prisoners suffering from chronic Hepatitis C.

“Colorado has an immense public health crisis in its prisons.  At least one in every nine prisoners suffers from Hepatitis C, and complications from the disease kill nearly as many Coloradans in custody every year as drug and alcohol abuse, homicide, and suicide combined,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “Highly-effective treatment is available that could prevent deaths and fight the spread of the virus, but DOC’s cruel and arbitrary standards deny that treatment to all but a select few prisoners, in violation of established medical standards and the Eighth Amendment.”

Hepatitis C is a life-threatening, communicable disease that attacks the liver, causing diminished liver function, cirrhosis, and liver failure.  It is the most deadly infectious disease in the U.S., killing more Americans than the next 60 infectious diseases combined.  Even in the initial stages of the disease, Hepatitis C can cause serious symptoms, including chronic fatigue, severe depression, arthritis, as well as an increased risk of heart attacks, diabetes, nerve damage, jaundice, and various cancers.

Breakthrough medications approved by the FDA over the last four years cure Hepatitis C in more than 90 percent of cases.  The clinical standard of care, endorsed by a consensus of medical experts and associations, including the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, calls for administering these breakthrough medications to all persons with chronic Hepatitis C, even in the earliest stages of the disease.

In the Colorado Department of Corrections, however, prisoners suffering from Hepatitis C are not even considered for treatment until they have sustained measureable liver damage.  Even then, they are required to enroll in alcohol and drug therapy that can take up to two and a half years to complete, a requirement that, according to the ACLU complaint, has no medical justification.

A DOC committee meets four times a year to choose a select few prisoners from a candidate pool, based on a yearly quota, to receive treatment.

The ACLU’s complaint alleges that DOC officials are deliberately allowing the vast majority of prisoners who are not selected for treatment to suffer and die from untreated Hepatitis C.   In support, it quotes an email written last year by DOC Chief Medical Officer Susan Tiona to then-Senator Pat Steadman.   At the time, DOC was planning to provide Hepatitis C treatment to 20-25 prisoners a year.  With this plan, Dr. Tiona wrote, the DOC “should be effective in eliminating Department-wide deaths from Hepatitis C within the next decade” and “eliminating all additional complications from Hepatitis C by 2035.” [MORE]