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Court rules in favor of woman seeking opioid meds in jail

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A federal appeals court has affirmed a judge's order requiring a jail to provide medication to a woman to keep her opioid addiction in remission. The Aroostook County Jail in northern Maine appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a Portland-based U.S. district judge granted the preliminary injunction, which requires the jail to provide prescribed medication to Brenda Smith. The appeals court released a brief, unsigned ruling Tuesday saying it found "no abuse of discretion by the district court" in ruling in Smith's favor.

Smith was convicted of theft in 2017. She was scheduled to report for her 40-day sentence Wednesday, but lawyers said both sides were working to modify Smith's sentence so it doesn't involve jail time.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine argued on Smith's behalf when the Madawaska resident argued that the medicine allowed her to live a functional life. The medicine is commonly known by the brand name Suboxone. The Boston appeals court's ruling sends "the strongest message yet" that jails need to provide inmates with medicine for opioid use disorder, said Emma Bond, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maine.

"Other facilities should take note and do the right thing, and not wait for further legal action," Bond said. The fight over inmate access to opioid addiction drugs is being fought in several states. In Maine, the state ACLU filed a lawsuit last year making the case that it's unconstitutional for Maine jails to keep addiction medicine away from inmates.

Peter Marchesi, an attorney for the Aroostook County Jail, said the facility is "disappointed by the ruling" because it "cannot safely dispense this medication in the jail environment, absent proper funding for policy development and training."

Smith had not reported to jail as of Wednesday afternoon, Marchesi said, and the jail supports efforts to change her sentence so it doesn't involve jail time. That is because the jail is "unable to safely dispense the opioid replacement medication in the jail environment," Marchesi said.

The appeals court's Tuesday filing noted that numerous medical associations supported Smith, including the American Medical Association, American Society for Addiction Medicine and Maine Medical Association.

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