Dying inmate's lawyer weighs hepatitis suit
Charles Demastus <email@example.com>
By Howard Pankratz
Denver Post Legal Affairs Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2002 - Up to 40 percent of prison
suffering from hepatitis C and the state is failing to treat
them because of
the cost, a lawyer for a dying death-row inmate alleged
"It is going to be a huge issue," said David Lane,
who represents convicted
killer Frank Rodriguez. "It is the HIV of the new
Lane said he may bring a class-action lawsuit against the
Corrections for failing to properly treat 7,000 inmates he
from the liver disease.
But Dr. Joseph McGarry, the department's chief medical
officer, said an
estimated 17 percent, or 2,900, of the state's 17,150 inmates
Health officials say 1.8 percent of the general public, or 2.7
people, suffers from the disease.
McGarry said treatment costs about $20,000 a year per inmate
C. The department budgets $7 million annually for medication,
not a specific line item for hepatitis C drugs.
Before inmates are treated, they undergo an evaluation to
advanced the disease is. They also must complete a year-long
drug course before treatment.
While McGarry did not have figures for how many inmates are
with a two-drug regimen of interferon and ribavirin, he said
the drugs have
not been proven in clinical trials to save lives, particularly
He said hepatitis C can be contracted by the sharing of
which are used among prison populations for drug use or
"You are trying to use the funds available judiciously,
give it to the right
people," McGarry said. Only "a few" inmates
have died of hepatitis C in the
past five years, he added.
Rodriguez, 45, was convicted in the 1984 rape, torture and
stabbing death of
Denver bookkeeper Lorraine Martelli. He is one of six inmates
on death row.
But after spending the weekend in a Pueblo hospital, he was
Tuesday to the hospice at the Territorial Correctional
Facility in Can~on
City. Lane would not say how his client contracted the
"All prison administrators are aware the hepatitis C
issue is going to blow
up," Lane said. "It's going to take millions and
millions and millions of
dollars to treat hepatitis C in prison."
If Lane does bring a class-action lawsuit, it could break new
nationally, he said.
While many inmates with the disease contracted it before being
Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires the
government to care
for inmates, Lane said.
Lane said only a small number of inmates are being treated for
because the department has erected almost insurmountable
barriers before it
will administer the drugs.
"They make the treatment available but you have to jump
through so many
hoops to become approved to take it that nobody can
qualify," Lane said.
Hepatitis C rampant among inmates
By Karen Auge
Denver Post Medical Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2002 - Twenty years ago, the virus
didn't even have a
Now, hepatitis C is a scourge that affects millions in this
more people on liver-transplant waiting lists than any other
disease and has
created economic and treatment nightmares for officials in the
prisons, where the virus runs rampant.
In Colorado, about 17 percent of the 17,000 prison inmates
have the liver
disease, according to the Department of Corrections. A lawyer
for a dying
death-row inmate put the figure as high as 40 percent on
Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
that 18 percent of prisoners nationwide, or 360,000 inmates,
Colorado tests all incoming inmates for a number of conditions
liver function, but it can take decades for symptoms to
And not all inmates with the disease get treatment. Prison
not comment on death-row inmate Frank Rodriquez's condition or
Written protocols determine who gets treatment, said Dr.
chief medical officer for the Department of Corrections. Those
protocols are not "whimsical or capricious," he
An inmate must complete a drug and alcohol treatment program,
And prisoners with advanced liver disease don't get treatment
would be futile.
The most effective drug combination costs the state, on
$18,000 to $20,000 a year, McGarry said.
Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil
Liberties Union of
Colorado, reviewed the protocol and doesn't like it. "Our
policy is that it
unnecessarily denies and delays treatment," he said.
"And that's the
protocol on paper. In real life, it results in even more
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Drug treatment works in
about half the
patients, said Dr. Gregory Everson, a University of Colorado
But when the treatment does work, it often saves money in the
long run, said
If the disease progresses, it can cause cirrhosis or liver
potentially fatal conditions often treated with liver
Everson estimated that half the 400 CU patients waiting for
transplants have hepatitis C.
McGarry said prison officials referred two patients to CU to
for the waiting list, but neither was put on it.
The rate of infection is far higher among prisoners than in
population, where it is believed that about 2.7 million have
active cases of
Researchers believe large numbers of prisoners are intravenous
drug users -
that is now the most common way of becoming infected with the
1992, when blood-screening tests improved, blood transfusion
was the most
The virus can also be spread through tattoos, and, rarely,
Denver Post Legal Affairs Writer Howard Pankratz contributed
to this report.