hepatitis C

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Mass. Prisoners Sue For Better Hepatitis Care

Prisoners in Massachusetts are not being given expensive new medications to treat hepatitis C, according to a prisoner rights group that is suing the state, WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reports:

The lawsuit says new drugs that can cure Hep C are now standard care, especially for patients at risk of death from the disease. It’s not clear how many of the 1,500 state prisoners with Hep C are in an advanced stage that would warrant use of the $80,000-90,000 treatment.

But Joel Thompson at Prisoners’ Legal Services says all prisoners are entitled to adequate medical care under the Constitution.

“And the treatment of Hepatitis C, given all the changes that have come, in the treatment of the disease, is no longer adequate. It violates their constitutional rights,” Thompson says.

There is no comment yet from the state or the private group that handles prison medical care.

Here’s the full news release from Prisoners’ Legal Services and the National Lawyers Guild:

Hundreds of prison inmates are in danger of losing their lives because the Department of Correction refuses to provide the medicine that will cure their potentially fatal disease. A class action lawsuit filed in federal court today by lawyers for the National Lawyers Guild and Prisoners Legal Services says it is Massachusetts’ legal responsibility to provide adequate medical care to state prisoners. Urszula Masny-Latos, Executive Director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said: “It is the responsibility of the state, which spends millions to incarcerate thousands of people, to provide adequate medical care for them. Without such care, many of them will develop serious complications of this disease, and some will die. These people were sentenced to incarceration, not to death.” The lawsuit seeks to compel the Department of Correction (DOC) and its health care contractor, the Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional HealthCare, LLC (MPCH) to provide inmates in their custody with new, lifesaving medications for Hepatitis CHepatitis C, an infectious disease which causes progressive damage to the liver and ultimately liver failure, is widely prevalent in prisons and jails. New medications approved by the FDA in 2014 represent a dramatic improvement over their predecessors, curing nearly one hundred percent of patients, with far fewer side effects. The DOC and MPCH have stopped using the now-outdated medications, but have failed and refused to provide prisoners with the new treatment. Continue reading

Treat Hep C In Prisons? Could Cost $76B, But Break Epidemic

CDC Hepatitis C awareness campaign poster

CDC Hepatitis C awareness campaign poster

By Richard Knox

The hepatitis-C epidemic – five times bigger than the HIV epidemic – is finally getting the attention it needs, thanks to the sudden availability of costly new treatments that can cure almost everyone with this potentially deadly liver infection.

But there’s one big piece of the problem that almost no one talks about: the concentration of hep-C infections in the nation’s prisons and jails.

One out of six inmates has hepatitis-C, compared to something like one in 100 in the general population. Since the U.S. incarceration rate has soared in recent years, that means around 400,000 out of the 2.3 million American inmates are infected.

The reason is that most (but by no means all) hep-C infections result from contaminated needles and street drug use.

The hep-C epidemic is a catastrophic cost burden for the nation’s federal, state and local prisons. But it also represents a precious opportunity to get a jump on ending this insidious epidemic — the leading cause of liver failure, liver transplantation and liver cancer. So, who should pay, and how much?

First, the economic downside.

If all 17 percent of infected inmates were to get treatment – which could clear the nasty virus in almost all of them – it would cost at least $33 billion for the medication alone, according to the authors of an analysis in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.

But that’s not the whole story. A lot more people cycle through US correctional facilities and jails every year; that number is something like 10 million. If only half of those got the new virus-clearing medications, the analysis says, it would cost about $76 billion.

What do those big numbers mean? Continue reading