Monday, March 8, 2021

N.C. Department of Public Safety Settles Hepatitis C Lawsuit

Mar 8, 2021

The N.C. Department of Public Safety has settled a lawsuit over hepatitis C, reaffirming the Department’s commitment to the health of offenders in state prisons.

The settlement, approved today in U.S. District Court, calls for state prisons to:

  • increase screenings for the hepatitis C virus
  • use new classes of medicine to treat more than 2,000 offenders
  • boost hepatitis C education and awareness programs
  • arrange post-release treatment for offenders diagnosed near their release dates
  • report every six months on numbers of offenders tested and treated.

“What the Department of Public Safety wants most of all is healthier offenders in our facilities, who return to their communities in better health — just as the plaintiffs were seeking,” said Tim Moose, the Department’s chief deputy secretary for Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. “This compromise ends more than two years of litigation and provides a blueprint for reducing this virus among the people in our custody.”

Hepatitis C, according to the CDC, is a highly communicable virus that attacks the liver. The virus spreads through blood contact, often through intravenous drug use. It can also spread through shared personal items, open cuts, sexual contact or unsterilized tattoo needles.

About 2.4 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C. Many have no symptoms, but untreated it can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

No hepatitis C vaccine exists, but new drugs, known as direct-acting antivirals, were first approved by the FDA in 2014. They are taken orally, usually for 8-12 weeks.

Over the next five years, N.C. Prisons will use direct-acting antivirals to treat at least 2,100 offenders who have hepatitis C, according to the terms of the settlement. The five-year clock began ticking upon the court's acceptance of the agreement.* Other conditions that Prisons agreed to will not be required until after the COVID-19 state of emergency ends.

Todd Ishee, N.C. commissioner of prisons, said the new treatments — in combination with the beefed-up educational programs and more frequent offers of screening, which will remain voluntary — should produce a safer, healthier population of offenders throughout the state’s 55 prisons.

“We are absolutely committed to the health and the quality medical care of the men and women in our custody,” Ishee said.

The lawsuit dates to October 2018, filed by the ACLU of North Carolina and N.C. Prisoner Legal Services on behalf of three offenders infected with hepatitis C. It became a class action lawsuit in March 2019, and the two sides agreed to mediation in February 2020.

* An earlier version of this release provided an incorrect start date for treatment of offenders with hepatitis C using direct-acting antivirals. Prisons has five years after March 8, 2021, when the U.S. District Court approved the settlement, to treat at least 2,100 offenders. The text in the release has been altered to reflect the correct date.

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