Lawsuit filed against Jefferson County over methadone treatment in jail

Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 4:05 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - While a Watertown man waits to go to jail, his legal team is working to see that he receives methadone in the Jefferson County Jail. That means going to court against the county.

The civil liberties groups NYCLU and ACLU are backing a Watertown resident with a lawsuit against Jefferson County and staff at the sheriff’s office.

“This case is about ensuring that our client, P.G., has continued access to methadone treatment, which he receives for opioid addiction,” said Antony Gemmell, NYCLU senior staff attorney.

Gemmell filed the suit in federal court this week. It’s centered around a 35 year old man referred to as P.G., who “faces imminent arrest and detention at the Jefferson County Correctional Facility.”

Gemmell claims the jail has a ban on giving methadone to pretty much anyone.

“When he enters the jail’s custody, being withdrawn from his treatment abruptly in a manner that exposes him to excruciating withdrawal symptoms, and to a very significant risk of relapse and potentially death,” he said.

Officials with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office say they can’t comment on pending litigation. When asked about their methadone policy, they say they don’t have a blanket ban, and go by a case by case basis.

But Gemmell disagrees with that.

“Our client has been subjected to this practice previously at the jail and that’s not the only basis that we have. But, that is certainly I think indicative of what’s going on,” he said.

The lawsuit argues the jail’s methadone policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Constitution.

“The government takes someone into custody, whether to a jail or prison or other settings, it assumes the obligation to meet someone’s basic medical needs,” said Gemmell.

Gemmell says P.G.’s lawyers have started talks with the county, but as of now it doesn’t appear there’s a plan in place to ensure P.G. receives methadone treatment at the jail.

We’ve reached out to the county attorney for comment, but were unable to reach him.

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