Alcohol withdrawal in jail can be deadly. Drug withdrawal in jail can also be deadly, particularly when it involves withdrawal from benzodiazepine medications (“benzos”) such as Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, and their generic equivalents. A person who is dependent on alcohol or benzos should never be forced to go “cold turkey” in jail or prison without close medical supervision, monitoring, and treatment by trained personnel. The abrupt discontinuation of alcohol or certain drugs like Xanax in jail or prison can cause a variety of symptoms leading up to and including the very real risk of death.  When jail or prison personnel neglect inmates by being deliberately indifferent to these risks and fail to respond appropriately, they violate the U.S. Constitution and can be liable for wrongful death.

At Budge & Heipt, we work with some of the nation’s top medical and addiction specialists and experts in correctional medicine to hold jails, prisons, and/or correctional healthcare companies accountable for negligence or deliberate indifference when wrongful death occurs in custody due to alcohol withdrawal or drug withdrawal. We have won millions in settlements resulting from in-custody death and we take pride in encouraging jails, prisons and private correctional healthcare companies to change for the better by instituting policies and procedures designed to avoid future tragedies. Our notable results include a $4.25 million settlement against a well-known contractor for jail healthcare services following the death of a man in a small county jail after being deprived of his benzo medication, as well as various other seven-figure results for improperly managed care of incarcerated individuals.

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.

Opiate withdrawal can also be a particular problem in jail. As with alcohol withdrawal, a proper intake should be conducted and use of a monitoring scale such as the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) can be critical. Dehydration and other complications associated with withdrawal from heroin or other opiates should be properly recognized and dealt with.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal (from medication like Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Klonopin, and their generic equivalents) can also be problematic in jails—particularly among jails whose medical personnel have not been properly trained. When prescription drugs are suddenly taken away, causing an inmate to go into withdrawal, serious consequences may result. These can include mental confusion, disorientation, loss of appetite, insomnia, shaking, bizarre behavior, and even seizures. In some circumstances, death may result.

At Budge & Heipt we have sued jail staff, counties, medical personnel, and private correctional healthcare companies for failing in their constitutional duties to provide adequate care and treatment to inmates experiencing withdrawal from a variety of substances. While we will consider the possibility of state law claims arising from lapses in proper care in the correctional setting, most of our cases involve federal law claims for violations of inmates’ constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment (for pretrial detainees) and under the 8th Amendment (for convicted prisoners). We are familiar with the legal requirements associated with these claims and work hard to prove deliberate indifference where we believe the facts justify constitutional claims.

Lawsuits for constitutional violations of inmates’ rights surrounding withdrawal from drugs, medication, and alcohol require a thorough understanding of the federal law. We have repeatedly briefed these issues in connection with federal court filings and are constantly updating our legal research to keep up with the latest decisions in the jurisdictions where we file.

Our lawyers work extensively with medical professionals and experts in correctional healthcare. We work with PhDs in correctional nursing. We work with correctional healthcare physicians with experience managing care for inmate populations. We work with medical examiners and pathologists to determine the cause of death for people who show signs and symptoms of withdrawal leading up to and surrounding death in jail or prison. We work with ex-sheriffs and other experts familiar with the standards of care for jail personnel, such as corrections officers and their supervisors. And we carefully and thoroughly prepare every case to enhance our ability to overcome defense motions to dismiss and put ourselves in the best possible position to prevail on withdrawal lawsuits at trial. Our record of success is directly related to the hard work and dedication we put into these cases—and to our abiding belief that all people, even those confined in jail and addicted or dependent on drugs or alcohol, are entitled to humane treatment and adequate medical care.

If your loved one was a victim of alcohol withdrawal or drug withdrawal while in custody in jail or prison, resulting in serious injury or death, please contact our office to talk about your case. There is absolutely no cost or obligation to do so.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.