PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit accusing Pennsylvania’s court system of violating federal law, saying several lower court judges barred defendants from taking drugs prescribed to treat the disorder. the use of opioids while in drug treatment courts.
The lawsuit comes weeks after attorneys from the department’s civil rights division sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s Unified Court System. He cited at least three complaints of people being forced off their legal medications by courts in two counties in Pennsylvania in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The lawsuit filed Thursday relates to the use of methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine — including the brand name Suboxone — all of which are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Courts Administrative Office declined to comment on the lawsuit on Friday, but provided the office’s written response to the initial letter. In the response dated Feb. 23, Pennsylvania officials said the state office is in compliance by having policies directing courts to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and providing extensive training opportunities. to lower court officials, with plans for more focused training programs in the coming year.
The lawsuit asks a judge to declare Pennsylvania’s Unified Court System in violation of the ADA and to require it to adopt a policy of non-discrimination against people taking opioid treatment drugs. He asks that the policy explicitly state that all courts within its jurisdiction cannot exclude participation or deny access to programs such as treatment courts or probation programs.
The Department of Justice also calls for state courts to be required to implement a compliance monitoring system, ensure all court employees are trained on drug allocation, implement a better complaint system and to compensate those who have been wronged by the lower court. Strategies.
In the state’s response, Pennsylvania officials said they have taken steps to “to build awareness in the few discrete judicial precincts involved,” noting that each district has a presiding judge and an ADA compliance officer.
The lawsuit focused on three complaints received by defendants in Northumberland and Jefferson counties, but Justice Department investigators had identified six other counties that had “problematic policies” prohibit or limit medications for opioid use disorder in their diversion programs. These included Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, and Delaware County, just outside of Philadelphia. Experts said judges in other courts may have unwritten policies that also violate the law.
In one of the complaints, a woman was told she had 30 days to get rid of her prescribed medication in order to stay in the drug court program. Another defendant was denied graduation and kept in a treatment program for another two years because she struggled and ultimately couldn’t get off her medication.
Lawyers for the Legal Action Center — which uses legal challenges and policy advocacy to end punitive action for health issues like drug addiction — handled early complaints from some of those named in the lawsuit. Sally Friedman, the center’s senior vice president of legal defense, said her office has been receiving complaints for more than a decade from all corners of the criminal justice system about denials of these drugs.