BOSTON — The Massachusetts prison system has agreed to provide a Gloucester inmate and two others with medicine to treat their opioid addiction.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts announced Friday it has reached a settlement with the state Department of Correction after filing a federal suit on behalf of the men; Joseph Sclafani of Gloucester, Michael Feinstein and Bret Cappola. 

The department had previously agreed to continue giving the men their medications while the legal challenge was pending. A spokeswoman said federal patient privacy regulations prevent the department from commenting further on the details of the resolution.

The ACLU filed the suit after corrections officials told the men they'd receive their medications for only up to 90 days.

The civil rights group argued that was a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ACLU said the inmates were effectively being forced to go through painful withdrawal and faced an increased risk of relapse, overdose and death without their daily medication, which was prescribed before they were incarcerated.

Sclafani, 43, began serving a 2 1/2- to 4 1/2-year prison term for a fourth offense of driving under the influence in August. He said in affidavits filed with the lawsuit that his dosage of the generic form of Suboxone was cut in half, then tapered down and discontinued, during his first 90 days in custody at MCI Cedar Junction.

He was transferred in November to MCI Norfolk, where, he said, the medication is not offered at all. In December, the prison system agreed to allow him to receive medication for addiction.

In a moving affidavit filed with the suit, Sclafani described his odyssey of drug addiction, which he says started when he was in his early teens with alcohol and marijuana.

"Drugs made me feel safe, because they allowed me to shut out the real world," he said in the affidavit. Sclafani said he has been diagnosed with opioid use disorder, ADHD, and anxiety.

Sclafani had tried other medication-based treatments, including methadone, over the years. But he said the buprenorphine, the generic form of Suboxone, was the first one that actually worked in an effective way.

"Thanks to that medication, I entered into active recovery and began to rebuild my life with my wife and four-year old son," he wrote. He also said that he was looking forward to rebuilding his relationship with an older son.

He said in his affidavit that he was "terrified that I will relapse, overdose and die" from taking substances obtained on the "black market."

The ACLU said that while the treatment agreement only applies to the three men, the department has changed its policy, and the Department of Correction is now providing similar addiction medications to all inmates, so long as they had an active prescription upon entering the system.

The department has said it does not have a policy restricting the dosage or length of treatment addiction treatment medications and that such decisions are made by independent clinicians.

Material from staff writer Julie Manganis and the Associated Press was used in this report.

 

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