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Maine Expands Chronic Hepatitis C Treatment For Prisoners After Lawsuit Settlement

A Maine State Prison inmate has settled a class action lawsuit with the Maine Department of Corrections that will allow for the treatment of prisoners who have chronic hepatitis C. Mathiew Loisel had previously been denied treatment. The settlement will allow him and others to receive direct-acting anti-viral medications over the next two years.

Under previous prison policy, Loisel and more than 500 other prisoners diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C could not receive treatment unless they could show proof that the disease had caused extensive liver damage.

Hepatitis C virus is a highly communicable and progressive disease that scars the liver and can lead to cancer, pain and death. Prevalent in prisons and jails, it can be spread through infected blood by sharing needles and personal care products such as razors.

There are direct-acting, antiviral medications that can cure most patients in a few weeks, but as of 2017, the Maine Department of Corrections was only treating three prisoners with the antiviral regimen.

Loisel’s attorney, Miriam Johnson, said the settlement with the state brings the corrections system in line with the community standard of medical care and the state’s obligations under the constitution.

"This means that all people who are in Department of Corrections custody with chronic hepatitis C will receive these medications that will, in the vast majority of circumstances, actually cure the disease," she says. "We don't exactly know how many people at this moment, or even six months ago, have chronic hepatitis C. We do know that in late 2017 there were approximately 580 individuals.  Three were being treated at that point."

In a written statement, Maine DOC Commissioner Randall Liberty called the expansion of treatment “the right thing to do.”