The reality is this: many people who enter the jail setting are addicted to alcohol or drugs or dependent on prescription medication. When a person enters the jail setting and is cut off from a substance on which their bodies depend, they may go into withdrawal. Withdrawal from alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications can be life-threatening, and jails and the medical personnel who work for them must be alert to these issues. When an inmate dies from alcohol withdrawal, drug withdrawal, or withdrawal from prescription medication, questions may arise concerning the quality of care. In appropriate circumstances, a lawsuit can be filed to vindicate the rights of someone who dies or is seriously injured as the result of drug or alcohol withdrawal in jail or prison.
The attorneys at Budge & Heipt are experienced in handling cases of medical neglect resulting from drug and alcohol withdrawal in jail and prison. We have handled alcohol withdrawal cases. We have handled cases involving withdrawal from benzodiazepines, opiates, and other kinds of medication. We have pursued these cases against counties that operate jails, private correctional healthcare companies, corrections officers, sheriffs, and medical personnel. And our results speak to the hard work we do: we have obtained millions of dollars for victims of improperly-managed withdrawal in jail.
Alcohol withdrawal in jail is far too common and carries with it a risk of death. While alcohol withdrawal is treatable—e.g., with proper monitoring and administration of benzodiazepine medication—officers and correctional healthcare personnel must carefully evaluate inmates at intake and closely monitor them to ensure that withdrawal is appropriately recognized and treated. At intake, a proper evaluation will usually involve an assessment of an inmate’s history of alcohol use and past withdrawal, including frequency and duration of use, the time of last use, and history of withdrawal. The use of monitoring scales, such as the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol (CIWA) can be important. And when signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal occur, proper treatment and follow up can be critical. Death is a well-recognized consequence of untreated alcohol withdrawal—and one that correctional healthcare staff should be alert to.