Florida Justice Institute Wins Daily Business Review’s 2018 Most Effective Public Interest Lawyer Award

Once costly drugs were produced to cure hepatitis C, the state Corrections Department dragged its feet on treatment with direct-acting antiviral drugs, which are effective 95 percent of the time.

The Florida Justice Institute sued on behalf of as many as 20,000 inmates, and U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker quickly responded.

The lawsuit was filed in May 2017, Walker granted class certification and a preliminary injunction in November 2017, and the judge approved a treatment plan the following month, giving sicker inmates a priority. The state didn’t file an appeal.

About 3,000 inmates have been treated since the order was entered. Before that, only five inmates had been treated, and hundreds with hepatitis died in the nation’s third largest state correctional system. The injunction covers current and future inmates to carry treatment forward.

One of the concerns was the likelihood of a spike in new inmates with hepatitis C due to the opioid crisis. Intravenous drug users are one of the high-risk groups for contracting the disease due to transmission with infected needles.

A 49-state survey released in July counted 144,000 infected state prison inmates who were not receiving treatment.

Cross-motions for summary judgment are pending in the Florida case. The parties have agreed to enter the preliminary injunction as the final judgment, but the plaintiffs are seeking a lower medical threshold for treatment.

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