Lawsuit Says State Refuses to Treat Prisoners for Hepatitis C, Letting Some Die


Hepatitis C is not all that difficult to treat. A class of drug called direct-acting antivirals, or DAAs, has been proven at least 90 percent effective in curing the condition. Just 1 percent of the U.S. population typically lives with hep C — but that rate is far higher, up to 17 percent, among state and federal prisoners.

 Despite that high rate and the proven medical treatment available, a class-action lawsuit filed by a Miami civil rights law firm Thursday claims the Florida Department of Corrections has refused to provide those new drugs to its inmates and is potentially leaving thousands of people to languish in pain and possibly die from the virus.

“Florida has the third-highest prison population, which brings some responsibilities to the Department of Corrections,” said Erica Selig, a lawyer for the nonprofit Florida Justice Institute, which filed the suit on behalf of three plaintiffs. “They can’t ignore this.”

According to the institute, just five of the 5,000 Florida inmates with diagnosed hepatitis C (also known as HCV) received DAA treatment. The suit says that because many inmates don’t know they have the illness, there are likely far more people with hepatitis serving time in the state prison system: There might be anywhere from 14,000 to 41,000 cases, the lawyers say.

According to the suit, at least 160 Florida inmates have died of liver problems since 2013. The Justice Institute warns that many likely suffered from hepatitis, whether they knew it or not.

“Since HCV is the most common cause of liver failure in the United States, it is likely that most of these deaths were due to chronic HCV,” the suit says. “Upon information and belief, past and current practices of the Defendant are resulting in deaths that could have been prevented through treatment of HCV.”

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