Inmates with Addictions are Dying — and Dying Quickly — Inside Oregon’s Jails. Why?

Earlier this week, we looked at the ongoing problem of people with addictions dying inside area jails. Many times, these people die because of improper care (or no care at all) in managing the detox process. Jails have healthcare service providers who are supposed to be able to handle these inmates (or else transfer them to someplace that can.) When an inmate dies because they did not receive proper medical care, that represents a potential violation of their civil rights. If your family has lost a loved one in this way, a knowledgeable Oregon jail medical neglect lawyer can help you to get to the truth.

One thing that’s common in these cases is the speed of deterioration. The U.S. Department of Justice looked at a broad array of these deaths and found that the “median length of stay in jail before death from alcohol or drug intoxication was just 1 day.”

So, why are inmates and detainees abruptly dying so soon after entering lockup? Law offices that handle these cases — including this office — often have the depressing answers.

One of the attorneys who represented the parents of Madaline Pitkin, the 26-year-old Portland-area woman who died inside the Washington County Jail in 2014 after workers mismanaged her heroin withdrawal, told KOIN that the care that would have saved Pitkin’s life was not complicated.

Inmates Dying for a Lack of Basic — and Often Inexpensive — Treatments

“The unfortunate thing here is all it would have taken is a bag of saline solution and IV, and that would have saved her life,” the attorney stated. That’s because, in a lot of cases involving opioid users, dehydration is a side-effect of heroin detox. It’s eminently treatable but if it’s not managed properly, it can be fatal.

For others, the correct treatment is prescription medication, such as buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is a relatively inexpensive drug, often costing less than $60 to obtain 60 pills in the larger (8 mg) dose.

According to the attorney who helped an Adams County, Colorado, family recover more than $3 million after a 2015 jail death, the big private companies to whom governments outsource jail healthcare services are often to blame. (In that Colorado case, the deceased was, like so many others, a heroin addict who died of dehydration.)

The family’s lawyer told KOIN that he’d had “case after case where private medical care providers — in an effort to save $20 — don’t give somebody prescription medicine and they die.” In both the Colorado case and the Pitkin family’s case, the entity responsible for care inside those jails was Corizon, a large corporation based in greater Nashville, Tennessee.

Corizon isn’t the only private contractor with a problematic history. There’s also Wellpath, another Nashville-based entity that, along with Corizon and two other entities, dominates the market when it comes to providing contract medical care services in jails.

In 2018, Kathy Norman died inside a cell in the Yamhill County Jail. Nurses and staff there knew that Norman was detoxing from alcohol. Alcohol detox is something that can be readily treated with medication — medication that Norman never received. She never even had her vitals taken, and she died in her cell just hours after entering the jail. The medical provider inside the Yamhill County Jail? Wellpath. This office is currently representing Norman’s parents in their case against the county and Wellpath.

The experienced Oregon jail medical neglect attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC are passionate about helping the families of people who died behind bars because a big corporation wanted to save a buck (or who died through some other form of inadequate medical care.). We offer our clients personalized attention and the sort of effective advocacy that comes from direct experience in handling these unique cases. Call us today at (503) 226-3844 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email:
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