This class action lawsuit, filed in 2017, challenges the Colorado Department of Corrections’ systematic denial of life-saving treatment to more than 2,200 prisoners suffering from chronic Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is a life-threatening, communicable disease that attacks the liver, causing diminished liver function, cirrhosis, and liver failure. It is the most deadly infectious disease in the U.S., killing more Americans than the next 60 infectious diseases combined. Even in the initial stages of the disease, Hepatitis C can cause serious symptoms, including chronic fatigue, severe depression, arthritis, as well as an increased risk of heart attacks, diabetes, nerve damage, jaundice, and various cancers.
Breakthrough medications approved by the FDA over the last four years cure Hepatitis C in more than 90 percent of cases. The clinical standard of care, endorsed by a consensus of medical experts and associations, including the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, calls for administering these breakthrough medications to all persons with chronic Hepatitis C, even in the earliest stages of the disease.
In the Colorado Department of Corrections, however, prisoners suffering from Hepatitis C are not even considered for treatment until they have sustained measureable liver damage. Even then, they are required to enroll in alcohol and drug therapy that can take up to two and a half years to complete, a requirement that, according to the ACLU complaint, has no medical justification. A DOC committee meets four times a year to choose a select few prisoners from a candidate pool, based on a yearly quota, to receive treatment.
The ACLU’s complaint alleges that DOC officials are deliberately allowing the vast majority of prisoners who are not selected for treatment to suffer and die from untreated Hepatitis C. In support, it quotes an email written last year by DOC Chief Medical Officer Susan Tiona to then-Senator Pat Steadman. At the time, DOC was planning to provide Hepatitis C treatment to 20-25 prisoners a year. With this plan, Dr. Tiona wrote, the DOC “should be effective in eliminating Department-wide deaths from Hepatitis C within the next decade” and “eliminating all additional complications from Hepatitis C by 2035.”
A settlement agreement in 2018 provided for treatment for all Colorado DOC prisoners with Hepatitis C.
- "ACLU lawsuit seeks life-saving treatment for thousands of Colorado prisoners suffering from Hepatitis C," ACLU News Release, July 19, 2017
- "Colorado prisoners with deadliest infectious disease in U.S. denied treatment, lawsuit alleges," The Denver Post, July 19, 2017
- "ACLU of Colorado gets a win on Hep C medication for Medicaid recipients, turns to prisons," Colorado Politics, December 1, 2017
- "Settlement guarantees $41M for treatment of Colorado inmates with hepatitis C," 9 News, August 27, 2018
- "ACLU and Colorado Department of Corrections reach historic settlement to treat all Colorado prisoners with Hepatitis C," ACLU News Release, September 12, 2018