Kentucky Sued Over Drug Treatment Policy

By Paul Gaita 03/12/15

Stephanie Watson is suing the state over her right to take drugs for treating addiction.

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A nurse in Kentucky is suing the state of Kentucky for preventing opiate addicts like her from receiving medication like methadone or Suboxone. Stephanie Watson, 38, filed a federal lawsuit in Eastern Kentucky against the state court system, which prohibits anyone released on bond from taking drugs for the treatment of addiction, even if prescribed by a doctor.

The suit states the policy, as upheld by the Administrative Office of the Courts, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Watson’s own rights under the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Watson and her legal team seek no financial damages beyond court costs and attorney fees, but request that the state grant Watson, and others in her position, the right to receive medical assistance.

Watson has a pending criminal case in a district court for allegedly taking drug remnants from a bio-hazardous disposal box at a medical center in Prestonburg. Kentucky’s drug treatment system is based largely on complete abstinence, a position that many medical professionals and the Office for National Drug Control Policy consider untenable and dangerous.

A study by the Huffington Post corroborated that stance by noting that in 2013, a majority of opioid addicts in Northern Kentucky died from overdoses shortly after leaving jail or becoming involved in the state’s abstinence program. According to the suit, Watson was informed by the director of the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts that if she took methadone or any other substance to treat her addiction, she would most likely have her bond revoked.

“The reality is, most addicts who are in the court system are denied access to Suboxone and methadone, or any other medicine their doctors want them to take,” said Ned Pillersdorf, an attorney for Watson. “I find that many lawyers and judges arrogantly think that they know more than doctors. It’s unconscionable to me.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.