The Most Deadly Infectious Disease Rampant In Colorado’s Prison System
Hepatitis C is the most deadly infectious disease in the United States, spread mainly through the use of shared needles. The virus is curable, but the state of Colorado evidently doesn’t care about the fact that the disease rampant among its prison population, at least according to the ACLU. One in nine prisoners in the state has the disease, which means 2,280 inmates have been diagnosed. Only a small number of them receive treatment.
The ACLU Colorado filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the Colorado Department of Corrections claiming an inability for prisoners to be treated even though the problem is rampant due to a “cruel and arbitrary” system.
The Department of Corrections meets quarterly every year to review a list of candidates up for Hepatitis C treatment. That list currently has 735 candidates on it. They then select around 70 for consideration.
Before actually beginning treatment, a prisoner lucky enough for selection must show “sustained measurable liver damage,” which equates to stage two liver disease, showing the disease is rampant throughout the body. If meeting this criteria, the inmate must then complete alcohol or drug therapy for up to two years. Only then will the he or she be able to receive life-saving antiviral medication. The chances of receiving this in time are slim to none. If a Hepatitis C prisoner is released, there is sufficient risk of spreading the disease to the rest of the population.
“We have always been concerned with the delivery of medical care in the Department of Corrections and this is a giant health crisis in Colorado prisons and the nation’s prisons,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for ACLU Colorado.
Department of Corrections spokesman Mark Fairbairn said of the current treatment plan, “Although these new pharmaceuticals are groundbreaking and effective, we have developed and implemented policy to assess treatment needs alongside appropriated resources.” The costs associated with treating the 80 prisoners Fairbairn indicated had supposed received medication in the past year are unknown.
Sovaldi, approved only four years ago, is the drug of choice for Hepatitis treatment, requiring three months of therapy. It has a cure rate is 90 percent. However, the drug costs between $30,000 to $40,000 and those with Medicaid must have enough liver damage to qualify as stage two before they are considered.
The ACLU lawsuit filed Wednesday was issued on behalf of four prisoners. One is 52-year-old David Poole who already has a bloated abdomen and a rash from the disease. “His entire body itches constantly,” according to the lawsuit. “When he scratches his skin, he develops open sores, and he is concerned about the risk of spreading his (hepatitis C) infection as a result.” The Department has said he doesn’t qualify for treatment, but the lawsuit has alleged his level was inaccurately assessed.
Another inmate named in the lawsuit is 61-year-old Robert Wieghard who has enough liver damage to qualify for treatment, but has been denied eligibility because he has not completed the required alcohol and drug program. The prisoner was first transferred to a Buena Vista prison in 2016 so he could attend classes not offered where he was previously, but because a disability limits him from climbing stairs, he was sent to Bent County, which does not offer the program. And so, he waits.
The lawsuit seeks treatment for the prisoners named as well as current and future prisoners diagnosed with hepatitis C.